Tackling TB: Dundee scientists fighting the killer cough

Between October 2023 and April 2024 we were thrilled to partner on an exhibition with our very near neighbours – Verdant Works.

Tackling TB – Dundee scientists fighting the killer cough explored the past, present, and future of Tuberculosis, also known as TB. Through the exhibition, visitors could take a journey back in time to find out what TB was like for Dundee’s millworkers, and explore Scotland’s world-leading public health campaigns.

The exhibition also focused on the research going on here within our very own Drug Discovery Unit. A lot of folks might associate TB only with the past, in the days of Verdant being a working mill. While it was a huge problem in Dundee then, it remains a massive challenge globally. The World Health Organisation’s data tells us that, each year, 10 million people contract TB and it kills 1.5 million. Indeed, it remains the world’s top infectious killer.

That’s why it’s so important that we had this exhibition. We’ve had some exciting results in our TB drug discovery programme recently, and have attracted international recognition and funding. Our scientists are excited to have the chance to talk about our work.

There were lots of interactive games to play in the exhibition, and a chance to share your memories around 3 letters – B, C, and G – that might be a trigger for those of us of a certain age. Our thanks go to Verdant’s own Julie Cummings for her excellent photography. Read on to find out more…



Three people stand in front of a sign that says 'Tackling TB'

As with all that we do, the exhibition has been a deeply collaborative project. We worked very closely not only with the staff from Verdant Works, but also their fantastic Heritage Volunteers. They gave up their time to scour the city’s archives and collections to find out fascinating facts about the history of TB locally.

You may also see lots of logos on the first panel. Most of these are the people who make our drug discovery research possible. It’s a complex, expensive, and long-term project, and we are grateful for all of their support.

And of course, we’re grateful to the people in the picture too. From left to right they are Sophie Hinde, Verdant’s Interpretation Curator, Dr. Laura Cleghorn, our lead TB scientist, and Bill Campbell, Dundee’s Lord Provost, who generously visited the exhibition to help us with launching the show. You can see a longer conversation with Laura as part of our In Conversation With… online talks – along with loads of other topics!

We began with a journey back in time. TB is a very ancient disease, which has been with humanity for many thousands of years – if not longer. Egyptian mummies have been found with evidence of TB infections.

Of course, our scientists are an important part of the story, so we introduced who they are, what they do, and why it’s so vital early on.

We also then take a look at historical remedies, and how the disease affected people when Verdant was a working mill. TB has not only affected our health, it has affected how we live – for instance, why do Dundee tenements, even in relatively working-class areas, have such high ceilings? The answer might just be TB.

Scotland also led the world in the fight to eradicate TB in the 1950s, and we have some fascinating videos and objects from that time to bring the stories to life.


A badge, given for taking part in a TB eradication campaign
A large room with lots of colourful exhibition panels

The exhibition had a number of interactive moments, and this is one of them. We set up a lab coat stand and mirror, so you can take your very own cell-fie in the gallery.

Looking back, you can really see what a spectacular space the High Mill is. One of the reasons we were so interested in working with Verdant is that their space is, in a funny way, very similar to our own home, here in the School of Life Sciences.

If you explore our Google Streetview of the building, and journey to ‘the Street’, it’s not a million miles away – a large, open space, huge high ceilings, and all around it people working in the key industry of Dundee.

As we reach the second half of our story, we moved from the past and into the present.

We had a number of exhibits here. How many pills would you have to take if you were diagnosed with even a simple case of TB? We also ask people to share their memories of the BCG, or Bacillus Calmette-Guérin. This vaccine was a right of passage for many people. For decades, it was given nationwide to Scottish students, around the second year of high school. It has left several generations with a small but distinctive scar, along with stories of immediate detention for punching a BCG bleb!

Interestingly, the Scottish Government elected to stop the nationwide BCG in the mid-noughties, so anyone born beyond the mid-90s may have missed this. The reasons why are quite complex. The vaccine itself is actually still really quite protective, and is given to people at high risk of TB. On a national level, however, cases in Scotland have dipped low enough that it simply isn’t worth the upheaval vaccinating everyone, and so the campaign ended.

A wall display showing many, many pills
A large rug, with a science-themed game of snakes and ladders printed on it

We continued our interactive journey through the world of drug discovery, with a game you may know – snakes and ladders!

The drug discovery process itself is long and arduous, and lots of things that are far outwith your control can go wrong. This game aims to bring a little of that to life for children of all ages. We’ve had some very special game pieces made, by longtime Centre collaborator Janice Aitken of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. Janice has been a huge supporter of our science art work, and we’re grateful to her for creating our scientist players for the game.

(As a side note, if you’re interested in science and games we’ve developed quite a few! Heal the World lets groups of players take on a deadly pandemic in a large-scale collaborative way, and you can even play our escape game, Diagnosis: Kidnapped! online right here.)

This section of the exhibition also features two of the most important people in the show’s development – TB doctor Dave Connell and his patient, Eddie McNaughton. Eddie, who lives in Forfar, was treated for TB in 2019. He has no idea how he caught the disease, but his testimony really brings to life what a challenging thing it is. Eddie and David had a great conversation about their experiences, and we have a film of it in the exhibition. We also had a double page spread in the Courier Magazine, where you can find out even more about the story…

The reviews are in...

Our fantastic school-in-residence, Blackness Primary, managed to get a sneaky peak into the space as we finished our installation.

They also gave us a good grilling interviewing us. We’ll be working with them throughout the run of the exhibition, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with over the project.

They’ve given us their reviews of the exhibition – click to see what they thought!

It has been a real treat to work with Dundee Heritage Trust, who run Verdant Works and also the RRS Discovery. They’re a locally-based charity whose mission is all about increasing access to Dundee’s amazing stories, so it has been a perfect match with us.

We’re looking at ways to bring the exhibition back both online and in-person. If you’d like to find out more, give us a follow on X (aka Twitter) or Instagram.


An exhibition image for our exhibition Tackling TB - Dundee scientists fighting the killer cough