Press Archive

E-Collaboration Through a Paperless Lab Environment

Published 09/16/2003

"Attempting to track down the results of a particular experiment in an old-fashioned lab notebook is akin to looking up a number in a phone book that has not been alphabetized," said Robert Hulett, head of operations and information technology in the Roche Protein Expression Group, in a recent seminar held at SDSC, called 'Collaborative eR&D Seminar, Electronic Notebooks and Beyond'"

Speaking to an audience of 30 researchers from SDSC and the local community he said that paper notebooks restrict the flow of science and are prone to inconsistencies and error. He gave the examples of a senior scientist in a meeting, leafing through a lab notebook in search of a snapshot of a gel featuring important results, and a manager scrolling through an endless Excel spreadsheet, attempting to track the progress of a particular project.

"Really, there is no workflow," he said. "Many of the challenges the scientists have are due to inconsistent lab documentation. It is difficult to figure out what was going on from a notebook, and can be really difficult to duplicate results."

Hulett is an advocate of the paperless lab, the ultimate expression of the growing field of electronic lab information management systems. His group, part of Roche Diagnostics Corporation based in Indianapolis, provides pharmaceutical companies access to proteins that are potential targets of new drugs, shortening the path to drug discovery. Part of shortening that route includes a uniform process for capturing what happens in the lab in a central database, and making that data available to both people in research and development and to management and business development groups.

As he explained in his presentation, Hulett adopted a system developed by KineMatik, software company headquartered in Cork, Ireland, but with offices in the US, in a single web-based solution that combines an electronic notebook, project and portfolio management systems, and a client collaboration resource.

In turn, KineMatik, whose motto is "A faster way to eureka!" uses the Roche Protein Expression Group as a case study in how technology can facilitate scientific discovery. During the same seminar, Richard O'Rourke, founder and CEO of KineMatik, gave an overview of his company's scientific collaboration solutions. He detailed how his company enables both a more efficient and more effective research and development process, which allows companies to bring products to market in a shorter amount of time.

According to KineMatik's website, studies have found that researchers, engineers, and scientists only spend 11% of their time doing new creative work and of that creative work, up to 80% is similar or repeated work. Collaborative electronic Research and Development increases efficiency and enhances research and development efforts. The KineMatik system essentially "electronifies" the research process, including replacing the traditional paper or electronic lab notebook with an electronic form that centralizes context, processes, and data in a consistent, centralized manner.

O'Rourke said that in the ideal lab researchers will have wireless-enabled tablet notebooks for data entry, which is then cataloged and stored as it is produced. Scientists would then be able to access completed work, to more easily collaborate, to find research records for regulatory compliance and patent purposes, and to produce research reports much more quickly. Managers would be able to access the same data to keep tabs on project timelines, budgets, risk, and capacity.

"The challenge of coming up with an IT system for research and development is that you need a structure, but also infinite flexibility for the scientists to customize and do exactly what they want," said O'Rourke.

Audience member Sam Toba, a catalyst product specialist at Accelrys, said, "It's a challenge to get different research groups, even within the same company, to communicate with one another. Technology simplifies that task, though it can take time and significant effort for everyone to adopt it."

The Collaborative eR&D Seminar was hosted by Kim Baldridge, SDSC's Director of Integrative Computational Science, and Julie Bryant of the Bryant Consulting Group, based in Rancho Santa Fe.