Science Exchange is an online platform to find the best contract research organization (CRO) to help you in your experiments.
Why Science Exchange?
Science is an increasingly collaborative endeavor. The problems tackled by today’s researchers require a variety of expertise, skills, and scientific equipment. Although large research institutions usually find the necessary collaborations and technical platforms, smaller labs can struggle to find the expertise or instruments they need.
Several online platforms are now trying to connect researchers to their peers and to experts of all sorts to facilitate collaborations (to learn more, go to the Digital Tools for Researchers list). Science Exchange is one of these platforms. Founded in 2011, it connects researchers with research service providers and an impressive selection of over 1000 assays. The service providers range from core facilities of academic institutions to startups and biotech companies.
I need help on an experiment, how does this work?
Simply start by searching the type of service you are looking for. Say I want to analyze a protein sample by Western Blot, but am not equipped in my lab. The search “Western blot” returns over 30 service providers, with various prices, number of positive reviews, and time to delivery.
Click on the providers’ storefront and you’ll find all the info you need to make the right choice: a description of the company or lab, the type of service offered, the number of services previously performed, and reviews of previous users. Select a few that seem to fit your needs and ask for a quote. You can then directly communicate with the provider to get the order through and arrange the logistical details.
Science Exchange is democratizing outsourcing in academia by acting as a facilitator. They take care of the painstaking steps involved in such collaborations. This includes helping you find the service you need, setting a price, and helping with the financial transaction so you don’t have to deal with the billing department of each provider you work with.
Turning your lab into a CRO?
Science Exchange welcomes private and academic labs to join them by opening a storefront. This model is quite common for private company, used to retail storefronts such as ebay and amazon. But for academic labs this could be a game changer. At no cost, the lab can showcase its expertise to researchers around the world, and offer services for a fee. The labs increase their national and international visibility and get an extra revenue stream.
Academic labs are still far from the virtual biotech model, but many academic labs do see value in outsourcing part of their work instead of doing it themselves or looking for more traditional forms of collaborations. For instance, the choice of outsourcing is often valid for the one time experiments that require outside expertise, or when complex ISO standards need to be followed.
With the increase in outsourcing, research institutions and funding agencies need to realize that an increasing part of research will now be contracted out of labs. Academic labs in particular will have to design policies that accommodate the mismatch between the teaching mission of many research institutions and the race for research results of the highest quality. Outsourcing experiments could mean fewer opportunities for PhD student to learn new techniques. And acting as a provider could mean spending more time doing out-of-context science for others instead of being creative on their own. But it could also give students a great feeling of productivity and an insight of the business side of scientific research.
In the meantime, Science Exchange is growing. It is listing US-based service providers only but do have long-term international intentions.