Embracing Team Science – #DSwebinar Summary
We recently hosted our fifth and final webinar of the year, “Embracing team science in pure academic and academic-pharma alliances”, featuring a panel of expert speakers discussing two major trends in research productivity that both revolve around increased collaboration beyond a single lab.
Firstly, there is a growing trend in research for international collaboration, and secondly, academic research labs are also developing closer research relationships with their counterparts from industry.
Laura Wheeler, Community Manager at Digital Science, started the webinar off, introducing the panel of speakers, as well as explaining their different backgrounds, before handing over to Xavier Armand from Labguru to moderate the discussion.
Xavier provided a brief overview of the topic at hand, explaining how the concept of “Team Science” is radically changing models of research, for example pharma companies are now setting up “virtual labs” with academic research groups, often internationally. Xavier also shared his own experience of collaborative research and the associated challenges around coordination, shipping, communication and logistics.
Dr Davide Danovi, Director, HipSci Cell Phenotyping Programme at the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London, was the first presenter to speak. As most researchers will know, the lab is a messy environment and tracing the different processes and workflows that researchers carry out is a real challenge. Lab notebooks are inevitably messy, but digital platforms can help improve storage, preservation, tracking, monitoring, sharing and discoverability.
Lab notebooks are inevitably messy, but digital platforms can help improve storage, preservation, tracking, monitoring, sharing and discoverability.
However, in Dr Danovi’s view it is very important to avoid duplicating work when using such platforms, for example by recording data twice. Unpolished and informal note-taking should still be accommodated by digital platforms, as it is by paper notebooks. There should be a clear and direct relationship between experimental processes and their documentation. Dr Danovi also explained that it is much easier to implement these workflows and platforms when starting up a new lab, it is a lot harder to change people’s existing workflows.
— Digital Science (@digitalsci) November 5, 2015
Next to speak was Dr Joanne Kamens, Executive Director of Addgene. Dr Kamens was excited to be able to speak about collaboration, as she explained that it is Addgene’s favourite topic! Addgene is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to accelerate research and discovery by increasing collaboration and improving access to useful materials and information. They are always thinking of ways to help the community do a better job with collaboration, it’s the very reason Addgene was founded in the first place!
Addgene is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to accelerate research and discovery by increasing collaboration and improving access to useful materials and information.
Addgene collect plasmid reagents from people all over the world and then they take them, they impose quality control, they put them into their repository, and then they distribute them out to researchers all over the world, currently to 83 countries. Addgene are able to provide researchers with a large variety of low cost reagents and their business model is entirely self-sufficient. What makes Addgene unique is the breadth and size of their collection. The repository contains 40,000 plasmids from over 2,500 depositing labs. To date, Addgene has distributed over half a million plasmids world wide.
Through Addgene researchers can design experiments that use materials from multiple labs and this is expanding experimental design possibilities, which is accelerating research. Addgene adds value by playing a beneficial role in quality control, curation and recommendation. Addgene also provides technical support for researchers with plasmid selection and experimental design. Reproducibility is a huge factor in this type of work. The standardisation and sharing of reagents allows scientists to repeat studies, to validate them, and to extend them. This is a huge factor in improving the reproducibility of research.
International access to materials is a big problem that Addgene works on solving. Labs want to share materials but there are all these logistical barriers which put a damper on collaboration. Another barrier which causes delay is the legal barrier and Addgene reduces this barrier for researchers via a simple electronic format for legal agreements.
In Dr Kamens opinion, scientists want to share, they want to collaborate and they want to do more with their materials. As Dr Kamens put it, “making collaboration easier means better science”!
Founder of Labguru, Jonathan Gross followed on from Dr Kamens. There’s lots of collaboration happening and it is just increasing and increasing. Researchers are now aware that collaborative research projects have a higher chance of receiving funding. In Gross’ opinion this raises the following question, what can we do to improve the day-to-day work of scientists in a collaborative environment?
This in turn raises lots of other questions. For example, how do researchers share knowledge? How do researchers share entities? How do you make the progress of research projects visible to all? How do you sustain the research continuity over a longer time frame, for example, when a member of a lab leaves? Dr Gross argued that we ought to be seriously worried about the long term preservation, availability and discoverability of protocols and research data, as well as other forms of informal lab knowledge.
“We ought to be seriously worried about the long term preservation, availability and discoverability of protocols and research data, as well as other forms of informal lab knowledge.”
His vision is for Labguru to be facilitating the infrastructure necessary for smarter research collaborations. Labguru provides a single platform where you can share your results with others and you can quickly and easily see overall project progress. A researcher can find a western blot in the platform and comment on it directly. If someone leaves the lab then all this information will still be available for future researchers.
— Addgene (@Addgene) November 5, 2015
Finally, Dr Scott Tenenbaum, Associate Professor of Nanobioscience at the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, SUNY-Polytechnic Institute, shared his perspective on research collaborations involving academics and industry partners. In his current role Dr Tenenbaum manages several projects between small businesses, usually startups, universities and a third partner, usually a marketing partner.
Dr Tenenbaum explained that one of the challenges with these kinds of collaborations is that academics think about research in a fundamentally different way to people in industry, for example the milestone delivery-based approach adopted in these projects is often alien to academics.
The idea that the actual bench scientists can communicate with each other and collaborate with each other, in a single platform like Labguru, and that the PI can easily keep track of that is extremely appealing.
He explained how a tool like Labguru where industry partners and academics can work together, that allows collaborators to catalog, store and use information in real-time, but also can be used as a way of tracking progress would be incredibly beneficial. What he needs is some way in which multiple projects can be tracked and monitored in real-time, in a way that allows for separate budgeting and accounting, something that is more important in industry than in academia. The idea that the actual bench scientists can communicate with each other and collaborate with each other, in a single platform like Labguru, and that the P.I. can easily keep track of that is extremely appealing.