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How Open Innovation Centers Could Expand the Future of Biotechnology – #uberresearchprize

20th August 2014
By Katy Alexander

In July, alongside the ÜberResearch team, we launched a Twitter competition open to PhD students. The task was to tweet how you would spend £10 million of science funding using the hashtag #uberresearchprize. 

We had hundreds of tweets and the top three, as voted by our judging panel, were then invited to write a blog post, delving into their original tweet. Over the next few days we will publish the top three blog posts here on our blog, announcing the winner on Tuesday 26th August. 

Today we are publishing Darin J. Weed’s entry and this was his original tweet:

Screen Shot 2014 08 20 At 10.48.11Darin J. Weed is a doctoral student at Washington State University studying the immunology of infectious diseases. His thesis topic is centered on how herpes simplex virus enters host cells. He is currently an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) an NIH Biotechnology Training Program fellow and a recipient of the NSF graduate research fellowship. Darin completed his B.S. in Biotechnology at Minnesota State University-Mankato in 2011. Throughout his years in college he has completed three internships in biotechnology ranging from food production, antibody validation and assay development. During his free time, Darin enjoys outreach work, reading and any outdoor activities.

Biotechnology has evolved from work done in large industry, academic and government laboratories to experiments conducted in garages, living rooms, and any other space imaginable. Increased advanced education of the public and potential monetary reward of biotechnology is undoubtedly a factor in this transition. Biocon, an Indian company founded in a garage, is worth over $800 million. Discoveries in biotechnology can impact any industry. The more opportunities for innovations to arise, the more potential gain economies, countries, and the world can receive.

Imagine you have a great idea; that you understand science well enough to design experiments, but are not currently associated with any research institutions. Unfortunately, as anyone who has started a laboratory can attest, the equipment costs for research can be staggering when trying to prove a concept or obtain enough data for a patent application.

How I propose spending £10 million of funding would be to invest in open innovation centers in large urban areas. The money would be used towards upfront costs of equipment such as PCR’s, electrophoresis systems, centrifuges, sterile hoods, freezers and other important molecular biology equipment. To save members money, ideally the centers would establish delivery contracts with supply companies and leverage the combined size and membership of the program to get bulk discounts.

Anyone wanting to do research at the center would only need to purchase a membership. This fee would need to be affordable, yet high enough to cover the indirect costs and upkeep of equipment. To cover the cost of more advanced (and expensive) equipment, the center could charge members a pay-per-use fee, similar to those currently charged at research institutions.

All research builds off of previous ideas to come to a new discovery, which requires access to relevant scientific literature. Open access journals are expanding, but there are few things more frustrating than desperately needing a paper and not being able to access it due to subscription costs. These centers would have computers with licensed access to journals in areas of biotechnology.

Close proximity to major institutions is critical, as significant innovation and scientific expertise exists in these environments. Additionally, this close relationship to institutions would allow the opportunity for graduate students to teach small courses for members of the center on how to properly and safely use equipment, collect and analyze data. This would not only benefit the users of these centers, but also the students themselves. On a demand basis, assistance with patent applications and troubleshooting experiments could be provided for a fee as well. Finally, these centers would allow collaboration not feasible in your garage.

I envision these centers as a launching pad for brilliant minds with great ideas, but without the resources or infrastructure to research them. These centers will allow these bright minds the access to the technology they need to see their ideas materialize. The economic and intellectual gains made by these centers would be immeasurable to society, the economy, and the world.

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