Escape Lab: Bringing the investigative approach of antiviral drug discovery to the public in an escape room activity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on virology and highlighted the need for public engagement to convey both results and processes behind the research. We designed a 20-minute escape room (Escape Lab) to ask ‘How can antiviral drugs be identified and developed?’ Escape Lab is aimed for children (secondary school-aged and above) and adults, with no expectation of prior scientific expertise. The goal is to find the structure of a potent antiviral compound that a scientist in the lab has discovered. The activities mimicked some of the key stages of our drug-discovery research: (1) screening compounds for antiviral activity; (2) checking cytotoxicity; (3) chemically modifying hit compounds to improve potency. Teams interpreted protocols and results from the scientist’s lab notebook and undertook ‘experiments’ to generate clues for each stage. The team ‘escaped’ the lab when they built a molecular model of the antiviral compound. Successful teams were given certificates and finish times recorded on a leaderboard to generate a sense of competition. Participants could also talk with current researchers to relate the activities to real data generated in our lab. Escape Lab was run at two events (British Science Festival, Leicester and Leicester Business Festival) in 2022. We had overwhelmingly positive feedback (95% 5-stars) and ~50% of participants seeking to learn more about our research. Overall, this offers a blueprint for a fun and engaging way to bring research to the public, with the flexibility to update the scenario to incorporate novel research and target different age groups.
Shivkumar M. (2023) Escape Lab: Bringing the investigative approach of antiviral drug discovery to the public in an escape room activity. Microbiology Society Annual Conference, Birmingham UK, oral presentation, 17-20 Apr 2023
Leicester Institute for Pharmaceutical Innovation - From Molecules to Practice (LIPI)