From Crisis Management to Prevention: Can Electronic Notebooks Help Combat Disease?

electronic notebooks
The rapid response to Ebola was heralded by physicians, researchers and governmental agencies. Can a similar method be used to uncover vaccines or drugs for other diseases?
Image Source: Flickr user Army Medicine

For many, March 23, 2014, will forever mark the beginning of something terrible, specifically the deadliest Ebola outbreak since 1976. At that time, the international community could not have known that the first confirmed case of Ebola would eventually burgeon into over 11,160 deaths in six countries including Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali and even the U.S, a figure the World Health Organization (WHO) admits is an underestimate. Even now, after the hysteria has diminished to barely a murmur, journalists and researchers continue to discuss how Ebola managed to “change the world.”

Importantly, however, one positive development to emerge from the Ebola epidemic was the unprecedented innovation demonstrated by companies and governments as they searched for vaccines and drugs to treat the virus-infected individuals. As BBC News reports, “an unprecedented decision by the WHO to support the use of relatively untested drugs, followed by a unique collaboration between scientists, public health organizations and drug companies resulted in trials being set up in a matter of months.” They continue, “This calls into question whether medicines for other diseases could be made in a more timely fashion particularly if academics, politicians and scientists were encouraged to work together in this way again.”

In combatting Ebola, other organizations, such as the Wellcome Trust and Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), also drafted “road maps” for “the expedited development, testing, manufacture, delivery and financing of Ebola vaccines” in which they discussed the various scientific, financial and logistical challenges that could be overcome through collaboration. However, collaborations still faced complications, in part due to disagreements over logistics and ethics, as reported by Nature. Stated in the journal, “Data-sharing roadblocks have also occurred at all levels…[And] detailed information on the patient’s’’ reactions to the drug has not been released owing to fears that this would prevent researchers from publishing on the cases.” Thus, though this method of producing scientific breakthroughs is promising, more must be done to refine the system in order to treat other or more rapidly address another disease outbreak.

Using Electronic Notebooks to Assist Rapid Research

Despite criticisms about the emergency Ebola response, many admit there was a “remarkable worldwide collaborative effort” that enabled at least two candidate Ebola virus vaccines to become available. If such efforts could be employed to uncover new therapeutic agents for disease such as cancer, HIV, autism and others, could we potentially rid the world of disease? Though the answer is unlikely to be so simple, electronic notebooks could go a long way toward organizing efforts and increasing the chances that such efforts remain collaborative and positive. Following are specific ways in which electronic notebooks can assist researchers, pharmaceutical companies and physicians to rid the world of disease:

  • Collaboration: Electronic notebooks are popularly used for collaborative efforts within labs and companies; however, using them on a wider scale between government medical bodies, researchers and academics could increase the numbers of people with access to data and thus the chances that the data could be used to inspire another individual or his/her research efforts. Oftentimes, one researcher might not know how to interpret results, but another with access to their electronic notebooks could use that information toward a common good.
  • Data Protection: Though electronic notebooks could be widely used to share data between disparate agencies, electronic notebooks also enable users to set privacy settings to allow certain individuals to view data that others cannot. In this way, information about a clinical trial (for example) could be stored within electronic notebooks and specific team members in separate institutions or agencies can gain access to that information.
  • Data Organization: Rapid research requires that many scientific, political, ethical and social innovations be pursued at once. To ensure that all agencies and individual stakeholders are on the same page, electronic notebooks can be used to organize different components of a project. In this way, those interested in pursuing financial support could use electronic notebooks to organize their efforts, whereas those interested in the scientific aspects of a problem could organize their efforts toward those ends. However, presenting all information in a central location as is possible with electronic notebooks, enables all members of an organization or agency to visualize how different components of a project fit together toward combatting a problem.

The development of drugs and vaccines to treat Ebola required a significant amount of collaboration from a variety of government agencies, countries, institutes and companies. To consider how the BIOVIA Notebook could be used to improve collaboration, protect your data and organize research projects within your organization, please contact us today.

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