Spotlight: Tackling the issue of scientific data waste 

More than half of all scientific research is irreproducible, and more than 80% of scientific research data is being lost within 20 years. In the biomedical field alone, irreproducible research costs the industry £28 billion (US$38 billion) every year. Megan Thomas talks to Founder of Labstep Jake Schofield, about this issue. 

MT: Huge amounts of scientific data gets lost and wasted every year. What is the reason for this?  

JS: Over the last decade, the complexity of R&D processes has evolved such that keeping track of everything in a single lab – let alone in the whole organisation – is excessively complicated. On average, there is a delay of three weeks between performing an experiment and documenting it, disrupting the whole R&D process and translating into the ongoing scientific reproducibility crisis, with over 50% of research currently irreproducible and 80% of data lost within 20 years.  

These issues are a consequence of inconsistent and erroneous manual data entry – most researchers are still using paper notebooks to record their experiments and data. A lot of the loss can be accounted to the physical loss of data recorded on paper by the lab staff, but most of this loss occurs because notebooks do not provide a clear framework for recording data, meaning that there is variability and inconsistencies in record keeping. This makes it difficult to monitor, find and reproduce the data. Manual data entry errors in business expose organisations to compliance risks and waste large amounts of money, and errors in the healthcare and clinical research industry risks lives. 

MT: Why have previous attempts to address the reproducibility issue so far failed?  

JS: Current solutions address data loss and data organisation by replacing paper notebooks with electronic notebooks (ELNs). ELN solutions aim to organise research data within a digital solution but I believe some providers made life harder for researchers.  

The real problem is the adoption of current solutions (ELNs) – only 7% of scientists worldwide use ELNs, although virtually all of them know about its existence. Also, you cannot take an ELN into a lab and must still record data twice. R&D organisations need a seamless solution that is easy to use and intuitive but also integrates easily and flexibly into their current R&D workflows.  

MT: What is Labstep doing to change this landscape? 

JS: We are building a science platform to help R&D organisations create a connected research environment, streamline workflows, and allow for flexible integration with current lab systems and emerging lab tech. Our product serves as a stepping stone to lab automation by bridging the gap between current lab capabilities and next-generation lab tech. We are building an AI-powered lab tool that will write itself, fetch data at a click of a button or voice command and make research workflows faster. This model will drive adoption, and this is what will steer the evolution of science globally. 

MT: What is the market potential for automated scientific data capture software?  

JS: Every R&D organisation experiences the issues we have discussed, making the commercial opportunities immense. There are thousands of SMEs, CROs, large enterprises etc, looking for ways to streamline their research. The biotechnology sector alone is a multibillion plane, experiencing one of the highest industry growths over the last couple of years. Adoption of digital solutions has especially been accelerated by the pandemic and we feel like the demand for a solution like Labstep is higher than ever. 

Volume 23, Issue 1 – Winter 2021/22 

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