Shooting stars and fake drugs: Meet our guests

We chat with our two special guests, John Zarnecki and Bahijja Raimi-Abraham
09 March 2021

Interview with 

John Zarnecki, Open University, Bahijja Raimi Abraham, King's College London


A shooting star


Adam Murphy sat down this week with two special guests, space scientist and emeritus professor John Zarnecki from the Open University, and King’s College London pharmacist Bahijja Raimi-Abraham, to chat about the science behind the headlines. To start off, Adam asked John started by asking John how he was dealing with lockdown.

John - I'm surviving!

Adam - Aren't we all...

John - Of course, just like everybody else. Some days are more of a struggle than others, but I can't complain. I've got a nice garden, and I've become much more aware of nature on my doorstep, and as you'd expect, I look up at the sky on those days when we're able to do that. But sadly, I missed that meteor that shot across the sky a few days ago.

Adam - And speaking of that kind of recent thing, what else in the headlines space-wise has been catching your eye, scientifically?

John - Well, it was I suppose that meteor that flashed across the sky, and was seen in many parts of the UK. I don't know if you saw, but various people have done some modelling of the fragments - it was seen to break up in the atmosphere - and the modelling suggests that some fragments might have landed somewhere north of Cheltenham. And so some intrepid explorers have been looking to see if they could find any fragments of this visitor from space. And meteors, shooting stars, are quite common, but to actually find the fragment on the ground is relatively rare; I think the last time in the UK was about 30 years ago. That's something that rather caught my attention.

Adam - Did you see - because I only saw it earlier today, about an hour before we started - did you see Elon Musk's new rocket? He managed to make it do a flip, land, and then it exploded.

John - Yes, that's the Elon Musk Starship. So that's his latest, biggest rocket. I mean, it really is a big beast. And I think that the idea is that might eventually take payloads and even astronauts to the moon and Mars. I think there've been several attempts to land this rocket, and this ostensibly worked; I mean, it came down, you can see in the footage it came down and landed fairly softly, but not quite softly enough. And apparently what happened was that a few minutes after the landing, I think one of the fuel tanks had ruptured because it was a slightly rough landing, fuel was leaking, and there was a fire and an explosion. But I think it did demonstrate the ability to relatively soft-land this very large rocket.

Adam - Bahijja, over to you. So you're a pharmacist, a lecturer in pharmaceuticals at King's College, founder of King's College London Fight the Fakes, and you lead your own research group! Can you tell us about all of that? What is it of all the things you get up to?

Bahijja - I know, it's a bit of a mouthful isn't it. With my research - I'll start off with my research - the core pillars are aging and global health, and then I have several cross-cutting themes ranging from pharmaceutical manufacture and innovation; looking at novel ways to make drug delivery systems and novel ways to make new medicines, and in particular, looking at nanotechnology approaches as well; then looking at the therapeutic and multi-morbidity aspects of infections. The reason for that is we have to remember that a patient is not just, let's say, for example... I have an interest in malaria. So a patient may have malaria, but they may also have diabetes, or hypertension... and I think sometimes in healthcare and in medicine, we tend to look at the patients with a focus of just whatever we're interested in. So I'm really interested in looking at what we call multi-morbidity, and exploring the therapeutic elements. And then, as I mention, the nano facilitated drug delivery strategies in infection prevention and treatment. And then the last of it is actually this issue of falsified, substandard, and counterfeit medicines. And the reason why that's added in is because as I mentioned, I'm quite interested in malaria; but actually, on my journey with my research and the work that we do, it came to my attention... really, the impact fake medicines have on so many different things: on anti-microbial resistance, on patient outcomes, and things like that. And it became something that I realised I really wanted to get involved in beyond the research, to get more involved in the advocacy and awareness element of things. And so that's why I did establish the King's College London Fight the Fakes campaign, which aims to provide advocacy and awareness for the global issue of falsified substandard and counterfeit medicines. But then on top of that, putting a face to... Because it can be very faceless thinking about the impacts of fake medicines, but in this campaign we actually sort of put a face to this issue so that people really see how important it is.


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