Giantmicrobes is a company that creates fun health and science products that resemble microbes, organs, vaccines, and more and are used for teaching and enjoying.
Giantmicrobes is a company that creates health and science products that resemble microbes, organs, vaccines, and more. Infection preventionists (IPs) use GIANTmicrobes for educational purposes or decorations around their offices. Each GIANTmicrobe is based on an actual microbe, organ, or other medical term. Some examples are anxiety, ADHD, sickle cell, macrophages, brains, COVID-19, and black plague.
Infection Control Today® (ICT®) spoke with Andrew Klein, MBA, BS, president of Giantmicrobes, about the fun and educational products, where they came from, and other services they provide.
(Note: Giantmicrobes is the name of the company. GIANTmicrobes refers to the products.]
ICT: Would you provide [ICT’s audience] a brief history of Giantmicrobes? How and where did the company get started?
Andrew Klein, MBA, BS: Excellent. I have quite a few here. We've been in business for almost 20 years, going back to around 2003 or 2004, when Giantmicrobes was started here in Connecticut by Drew Oliver, the company's founder. I now run the business. We're focused on health and biology, making learning science fun. We've over all these years; we've expanded quite a lot from the original products, which are common cold, white blood cell, and Shigella; those are some of the very early GIANTmicrobes, which started the concept [which] was to help children learn about hygiene, and the basic concepts of biology and the microscopic world of course, which is a big part of life sciences.
Now we have over 400 different products. Even beyond microbiology and infectious diseases, we've expanded into chronic disease and anatomy. We now have many products focused on the organs of the body, hormones, neurotransmitters, and mental health. We've gotten into a lot of different areas of life sciences.
ICT: Do you know which GIANTmicrobe is the most popular?
AK: During the pandemic, certainly, our business shifted a little bit. Now we're back to more of our baseline, but over the last 3 years, our COVID-19—and we have a whole series of COVID-19-related products—those are still very popular and grew a lot during 2001, 2021, and 2022. Our [COVID-19] vaccine was our best seller in the last 18 months.
Now our regular common infectious diseases are still our top sellers [Escherichia coli], Salmonella, and MRSA; we have a whole series of STIs [sexually transmitted infections], which are very popular. These go back some years, [like] chlamydia. They all come with an educational card that gives an overview of the organism or the science behind the health topic. People appreciate that, and it's a good way for students or teachers to get a snapshot of the product.
ICT: Typically, how do you decide which product to make next?
AK: Organizations, schools, and patients are constantly requesting that we expand into a different [topic], come out with a new bacteria, a new virus and, and so we make a lot of the requests of our customers, or if there's a current event that [is] going on. We came out with monkeypox (mpox) last year. And right now, the new ones that we're launching this year include RSV [respiratory syncytial virus], which has been requested over the last several years. Last winter, [there] was a lot of attention on RSV, and we realized, “Hey, this is a good product!” We're launching that this summer.
Sickle cell anemia is another chronic disease that we [launched] this year. So that's one that came from [other organizations’ requests]. Several organizations have asked us to do sickle cell anemia to help create awareness for that topic. Some products like RSV are more basic education for parents to teach their children about a virus where sickle cell anemia is more of an overall public health product….
ICT: Yes, this year, we did see an increase in RSV. And having a product such as GIANTmicrobes would be very useful for educating our staff and patients on the virus. And I remember earlier this year, GIANTmicrobes came out with a product for monkeypox [or mpox], and that was very useful for removing some of the fear and stigma surrounding the virus. Typically, when you're developing these products, do you work with any physicians or clinicians?
AK: Depending upon the product, we do a lot of times. We will get a concept or design and try to figure out the correct rendering of an organism. Then, when it comes to the educational information we work with, graduate students who are educators, people who are in the field, and experts in the area help us write and edit the educational information.
Of course, our products are fun and more lighthearted in a way. So GIANTmicrobes have [big] eyes on them, and they have color, which, of course, is more taking a lot of artistic liberty on the actual bacteria. So that comes from [the idea] to make [the bacteria] more approachable and interesting. There's no reason that our Omicron is green. But what it's about [is] it's creating awareness for these topics and getting people talking about it.
Like you said with the RSV, another one we came out with a couple of years ago came from the STI [sexually transmitted infection] community. We've attended some trade shows and conferences about sexual diseases. People asked us for mycoplasma, which is, is one that many people have not heard of, and we here at Giantmicrobes, we're familiar with that. So we came out with that product a few years ago, based on the requests from public health officials who work in STIs.
ICT: Do you have any recommendations on how infection preventionists or other clinicians could use this product for education?
AK: That's a great question. We find people [who] are experts who are using our products. If there's an event or a conference, they might use it as a prop to get people's attention to say, “Hey, this is, in a very rough way, what salmonella is. It's a bacteria, and it has flagella.” But [the GIANTmicrobe] is something that can be used as a giveaway for people to hold in their hands, to make it more visual, and to make it something to touch and feel. And it helps to remember what that is when you touch and feel something. So it's our product is largely for young adults and teenagers, even more than children, even though you might say their toys, but we find our biggest audience is people who are in their 20s or people who are in the sciences; we use GIANTmicrobes for education or public awareness. And then there are parents who want to talk to their children about some of these topics, and some children like to collect them. That's fantastic for kids interested in science or anyone who might think they're cute and interesting. They'll give a child maybe an introduction to science to say, “Hey, science is fun.”
ICT: And we have to know, what's your favorite GIANTmicrobe?
AK: I like our brain cell. And a few years ago, we launched our brain, which is pretty cool. It's important that people know more about their brains. Everyone could use a second brain. [laugh]
ICT: Yes. I also know Giantmicrobes partners with different charitable organizations. What is that one organization that you partner with?
AK: Yeah, one example is the Global Lyme Alliance, where we're here in Connecticut, and Lyme disease is a big issue. Ticks are all around the East Coast, but that's an area where when we sell it on our website, a portion of the sale is given to the organization. Also, some of the organizations we work with use giant microbes themselves. We might donate the product or do a special order for these organizations, and then they use it, [like] National Breast Cancer Foundation and several others.
ICT: Are there any more in the works you want to share with us?
AK: We are coming out with some more immunology products where we have red blood cell, white blood cell, etc. We're coming out with Killer T cell; we're coming out with a macrophage. We get many requests in the world of blood science and immunology. There's thing we do with organization [like the one] we did for Carnegie Mellon. We can do special products for any organization or company if they want to take the GIANTmicrobes and brand it with your information; we're happy to do that for a few 100 pieces. We could put it we put on a sewn on tag, and then we could put on embroidery and different logos. That's a nice way for an organization to get its name out there. At conferences and trade shows, that's great for any organization to be able to spread the word about its mission. We'll also modify this [part of the GIANTmicrobe tag] to put any mission statement or [any other] information about a product or a service could be on those tags.
We're so happy to work with health care professionals to hear what people would like from Giantmicrobes. And when we're very flexible, we can help a company or organization or any topic that might arise in society. Like mental health, we've expanded based also on customer feedback. So now we have a series of products that represent topics in mental health [like] anxiety, depression, etc.
ICT: Is there anything else you'd like to add or share with us?
AK: I want to thank you for the chance to talk about GIANTmicrobes. And if anyone has questions or would like to look at our products, you can visit giantmicrobes.com. And you can email us anytime for the custom work [it is] email@example.com, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'd be happy to provide any information or samples of our products if people are interested.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)