Cancer Research: Battling the Beast with Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

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electronic laboratory notebooks
Cancer is increasingly seen as a way to describe many diseases with certain phenotypes. However, using electronic laboratory notebooks in the fight against cancer can decrease some of its complexity and potentially increase the chances that novel and targeted treatments become the reality for most patients.
Image Source: Flickr user frankieleon

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee has called cancer the “emperor of all maladies” in his book on the “complete story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions.” Whereas we often conceptualize cancer as one disease, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases that develop across time and involve the uncontrolled division of the body’s cells. As such, treating cancer effectively will require more targeted therapies and research efforts that reveal molecularly and clinically distinct subgroups of cancers via gene expression profiling. The great success of Gleevac, which specifically and selectively targets a single aberrant protein in individuals with a chromosomal translocation, illustrates that more targeted therapies will be an essential way to control the side-effects, symptoms and diagnosis of cancer while also narrowing individuals’ treatment options by avoiding therapies that will likely be ineffective due to differences between a drug’s mechanism of action and behavior of a specific group of cancers. The rise of precision medicine, a term used to describe the use of a person’s genomic information to diagnose or treat a disease, further underscores the importance of personalization in improving medical outcomes.

Moving Forward in the Cancer Field with Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

In this complicated scientific environment, those interested in creating new therapeutic interventions to cure cancer should use better systems for organizing, describing and presenting their data. Thus, the use of electronic laboratory notebooks should become standard in collecting data that may one day serve the basis of new drug therapies that target specific kinases, proteins or cancer pathways. As discussed above, cancer is not a single genetic disease but describes a group of different, heterogenous disorders. As such, the use of electronic laboratory notebooks to organize data within an institute, for example, can help researchers determine the specifics of an individual cancer, while determining how it is similar or different from previously studied examples. Following are three specific ways in which the use of electronic laboratory notebooks can assist cancer institutes in their fight against this emperor of all maladies:

Discovery: Electronic laboratory notebooks keep all records in a single, password-protected location, protecting the data of many research groups and personnel indefinitely. Thus, the results from treating one cancer can be determined in order to identify drug efficacy and toxicity effect, or the results of experiments — from western blots to immunohistochemistries — can all be placed in a single location to inspire other researchers to support or withdraw support from a specific theory, based on the experiments of others. Electronic laboratory notebooks can improve and hasten the discovery pipeline by ensuring that research is open for all members of a cancer institute.

Organization: As we’ve discussed, cancer is increasingly seen as not one disease but a series of different types of diseases, which differ in their etiology, development and progression. By providing a single repository for this information, scientists can better identify and ultimately determine patterns that might help in categorizing different forms of cancer and subsequently, assist in treating these types of cancer. The use of electronic laboratory notebooks can be seen as essential in organizing large volumes of information to improve productivity and efficiency.

Accessibility: The use of electronic laboratory notebooks can also increase the numbers of workers who have access to cancer experimental data, while protecting the integrity of this data by providing detailed time stamps and password-protected options. For example, during the Ebola outbreak, one of the most difficult aspects of collaboration was the inaccessibility of important data. To prevent such difficulties, cancer centers and institutes should use electronic laboratory notebooks as a means of providing appropriate access to data.

Beating Down the Beast with Digital Tools

Cancer is truly the emperor of all maladies, an insidious beast that often transforms the lives of patients and their families without their consent. In order to battle this formidable opponent, cancer centers and institutes should use electronic laboratory notebooks to improve the discovery pipeline for novel drugs, organize the large volumes of data often generated during experiments and improve researchers’ ability to access that data. The BIOVIA Notebook can assist researchers in these goals and to determine how it might assist you, please contact us today.

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