Never set foot in the lab again: conduct research in a cloud lab

Imagine never having to struggle in the day to day lab work again. Instead of spending your day pipetting samples, repairing broken instruments, or looking for missing data in your files, imagine spending all your time designing experiments, interpreting results, and moving the process forward. your research.

For centuries, scientists have had to play the roles of researcher, laboratory manager and technician. The time and cost of building, operating, and maintaining a laboratory slowed down their work and limited their ability to fully explore their research questions. Cloud labs circumvent these limitations, allowing scientists to keep track of their ideas without having to manage, store, manage, and maintain a lab on a daily basis.
Today’s best-equipped cloud labs offer a full range of capabilities that allow researchers to perform any basic experiment, from molecular biology to biochemistry, through a software interface that they can access from anywhere. anywhere. Researchers simply ship their samples to a remote lab, submit their experimental protocols online, and receive their results in a clean, usable format. True cloud labs can completely replace physical labs. They offer a myriad of benefits, ranging from cost savings to reduced capital burden, increased throughput, and unparalleled access to equipment, for scientists in universities, pharmaceutical companies, and contract research organizations ( CRO) from around the world.

Advance university research

Many companies are now operating in the cloud, and now the technology is available for academic institutions to do the same with their research labs. Moving research to the cloud offers many benefits to academic researchers, ranging from cost savings to training a new generation of scientists who are more complete and better equipped for the future.

First, a cloud-based lab gives researchers with limited funding or lab space access to the instruments and equipment needed to advance their fields of study. In addition, with its principal investigators performing their research remotely, a university can save on the construction, maintenance and energy costs associated with the physical space of the laboratory. Additionally, as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, cloud labs allow students, faculty and staff to continue to learn and perform seamlessly from home.

Perhaps more importantly, access to a cloud lab allows academic institutions to enhance their research programs. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is building
a cloud lab on their campus now to reduce barriers to scientific research, allowing their students and faculty to quickly bring their ideas into the lab and follow where science takes them. The flexibility and access offered by cloud labs make this approach an attractive option for universities looking to further expand their funding and create a more effective and impactful learning environment for their students. Not only can students access the lab from anywhere in the world, but the process of running experiments online allows them to learn coding basics and gives them more opportunities to collaborate with scientists from around the world. data, providing them with skills that will come in handy in an increasingly digital future.

Speed ​​up drug development

Pharmaceutical companies are also looking to accelerate their research and development projects. Their goal is to get their products to market as quickly as possible.

Cloud labs are rapidly accelerating the pace of drug development. Since the experiments are conducted in a semi-autonomous fashion, several can be run at the same time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Overall, this allows companies to run more experiments faster, thereby increasing an organization’s ability to discover and develop promising drug candidates.

In recent years, companies have sought help from CROs in hopes of accelerating their scientific work. In the short term, CROs will do this work for less than it costs to manage it internally. However, by outsourcing to a CRO, companies give the CRO the responsibility not only to execute their experiments but also to design them. This creates more opportunities to inadvertently introduce protocol errors and operator bias.

Other companies integrate and automate much of the experimental workflows to reduce costs and increase reproducibility. This allows pharmaceutical companies to retain ownership of the experimental execution, but these offerings come at the expense of flexibility, limiting a scientist’s ability to adapt to evolving experimental needs. Cloud labs offer the best of both ways: Scientists retain control over every aspect of their experiments, from design to data analysis and reporting, without having to do daily lab work themselves or themselves. other logistics activities.

CROs can also benefit from cloud labs. By providing their services through a cloud lab, they can accelerate their own scientific work and deliver results to their pharmaceutical customers faster.

A cloud lab with automated instruments. Researchers around the world are logging in to research here. Credit: Emerald Cloud Lab.

Solve the reproducibility crisis

Since a 2015 study determined that
scientists generate $ 28 billion in non-reproducible preclinical data per year, life science companies and universities around the world have rushed to uncover the source of the crisis and identify ways to resolve it. Over the years, scientists have identified several causes, including unreliable instruments, malnourished data sets, poorly described research protocols, and inconsistent recording methods that lead to a pervasive rate of data loss.

Many companies and laboratories have developed tools and strategies that alleviate some of the causes of the reproducibility crisis. Some have focused on developing more precise instruments while others have developed electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) and laboratory information management systems (LIMS) to reduce friction to get scientists to record with accurately and completely the procedures and data associated with an experiment. But while these piecemeal solutions address some of the specific causes of the crisis, they are hampered by the need for scientists to continue to carry out their experiments directly.

ELNs and LIMS improve traceability by observing and recording more reliably what scientists do in the laboratory. But a cloud lab is tackling the problem in the opposite direction: the platform allows scientists to design and run their experiments entirely digitally. The platform presents scientists with a complete set of commands of every variable and option available in the lab, and in designing experiments through this set of commands, scientists by definition must fully describe their experiment for the command to be valid. . These commands drive the protocols that are recorded and stored in the cloud by default. Because each protocol has a completely defined set of commands behind it, researchers can easily run the same protocols multiple times, establishing fully traceable and repeatable workflows. This increases the power of the data sets and increases the likelihood that the data is valid. The semi-autonomous nature of cloud labs also reduces human error and bias that can interfere with experimental results. Unlike stand-alone automation solutions, these benefits apply across the scope and lifecycle of an experiment.

Additionally, to assure researchers that their experiments are running smoothly, cloud labs tie all associated data (environmental monitoring, instrument qualifications, sample data, material analysis certificates, etc.) to the protocol itself. . This process also improves reproducibility because scientists can comprehensively compare all aspects of one protocol against another with a single line of code. This allows researchers to quickly troubleshoot inconsistent results by identifying, for example, that the reagent used in two experiments came from different lots.

Democratize scientific research with a cloud lab

In addition to reducing costs, accelerating drug development, and increasing reproducibility, cloud labs are also making research more inclusive.
Since researchers do not need to be physically present in a laboratory to perform research, all scientists around the world have access to the latest instruments and technology. This not only lowers start-up costs for PIs and businesses, but also allows labs to hire talented scientists no matter where they live. Universities can even use a cloud lab to educate their students all over the world. For example, CMU, which is located in Pittsburgh, PA, is ask their undergraduates to conduct experiments through a cloud lab located near San Francisco, California, to learn how to search.

Overall, cloud labs are improving the way research is done in ways we’re only beginning to see. Pharmaceutical companies and academia will continue to discover even more benefits of cloud labs as they embrace the approach more widely and use it to uncover new knowledge for the benefit of humanity.

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