By Steve Yemm
Stem-cell differentiation, the process by which a more specialized cell is formed from a stem cell, occurs during organism development to produce new specialized cells. This differentiation requires a series of steps, each of which presents multiple variables, creating a challenge for researchers who must test parameters at multiple stages. Innovative technology for stem-cell differentiation research enables researchers to test thousands of combinations of media compositions in a single experiment, thereby removing bottlenecks in process development, where combination variables at different stages exist.
These advanced experiments generate a multitude of data that traditional paper-based laboratory notebooks struggle to keep up with. Cloud-based management solutions are one way scientists can track experimental data, saving time with tools, such as electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs). ELNs allow users to enter data in a more standardized and objective manner. Data entry with paper-based notebooks is laborious, with scientists needing to manually search for specific terms or dates of when experiments were completed. This method is also more prone to human error, with variation in technique existing among individual users.
Simplifying Data Management
For organizations with frequent new personnel, multiple test parameters and, complex data generation, cloud-based management solutions significantly reduce the administrative burden associated with paper-based systems. For example, Plasticell, a pioneering biotechnology company based in the U.K., develops novel therapies through precise manipulation of stem cells and more differentiated cell types, using combinatorial screening technology. Plasticell employed a cloud-based ELN to update its laboratory workflow from paper-based to electronic, due to organizational expansion.
Reviewing project data is crucial for Plasticell, and doing so with an offline note system was cumbersome and time consuming. Pinpointing a process or data point from a previous week’s experiment with an ELN saves critical time as users can search their notes for keywords without needing to remember the specific date an experiment was conducted. Changes in personnel are also smoother with electronic systems. When a member of the lab leaves, backtracking through their notes to help bring new members up to speed is much easier. Work is organized within specific milestones, which facilitates the retrieval and sharing of historical data with new team members.
Meeting Collaboration Milestones
Plasticell frequently collaborates with other academic and commercial research groups interested in the differentiation of stem cells for a range of purposes. The organization’s core technology creates high-value cell products that can be used for cell therapy, and as a means to conduct screening for regenerative drugs. This collaborative work makes setting and meeting research milestones incredibly important.
The operational benefits of the ELN functionality of their cloud-based system means that individual team members can easily cross-check with another member’s notes, and managers can monitor experiments. Plasticell’s CEO can also use the system to corroborate and confirm that specific project milestones and deadlines are being met. This is a critical management benefit for a small organization where there may be limited bandwidth, with many projects coming in from various sources such as government, commercial, or academic.
Improving experimental workflow
As well as documenting the steps taken in a given experiment, many labs find it useful to write the experiment before it is performed, then to follow through the method on the ELN. Users can also link experiments through tagging regardless of which project the experiment relates to—so data related to a particular protocol and the related results and data can be found. For established methods, whole protocols are stored in a central knowledge base, increasing efficiency for the entire team.
Integrating raw research data is another factor that paper-based notebooks can hinder. Prior to integrating the new ELN into their laboratory, Plasticell had to print graphs and paste them physically into notebooks. Some raw data formats, such as those produced in flow cytometry, are too extensive and complex to put in hard copy format. With the electronic system, users directly attach these raw data from flow cytometry files and graphs into the ELN, and set them in context with the key milestones of the experiments.
The IP Advantage
With a cloud-based data management solution, Plasticell can now exploit and protect the intellectual property (IP) it creates. The standardized documentation and timestamping of data is crucial for patenting. One team member can identify unique IP that another individual might have missed, with the collective team view that the cloud provides. All experiments and changes can be traced back so the novelty can be analyzed and prove that Plasticell invented it first, based on the timestamp associated with the experiments conducted.
Cloud-Based Lab Management in the Future
The implementation of an ELN is a growing trend across numerous science and technology fields, as more laboratories realize the benefits these cloud-based solutions have on the efficiency of lab operations. Having a secure, compliant, cloud-based solution for recording experimental protocols and data facilitates faster decision making, improves the throughput of the laboratory, and maximizes research output.
Steve Yemm is the CEO of BioData, a digital science company providing lab informatics products—including Electronic Lab Notebook, Lab Inventory, Chemical Registration, and Biological Screening solutions—to biopharmaceutical and academic life sciences organizations in addition to other science based industries. The company’s solutions are powered by Labguru, a web- and cloud-based informatics platform. Prior to this, Yemm held the position of VP of sales at BioData and Digital Science and has more than 20 years of experience selling and marketing solutions—software, services, and automation systems—to science based companies. Reach Yemm at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feb2019, Software Magazine