Can Digital Notebooks Help Fulfill the Promise of Stem Cell Research?

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digital notebooks
Stem cells held much promise for medicine and biomedical research; however, as of yet, the promise has remained mostly unfulfilled. Can digital notebooks change the tide?
Image source: Flickr user Lwp Kommunikáció.

Human embryonic stem cell research has often generated significant controversy1 from those who believe that producing the cells kill embryos that would have otherwise become humans. Though many scientists disagree with the belief that embryos are equivalent to human life, the more fundamental issue for them is the great potential of stem cells2 to form the basis of therapies to replace cells and tissues damaged by diseases such as spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, diabetes, arthritis and macular degeneration. As of yet, however, the great promise of stem cell research remains largely unfulfilled3.

Part of the issue is researchers are still learning how best to use stem cells — in particular, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS)4, which are derived from skin or blood cells and reprogrammed back into embryonic-like stem cells or other cell types. Though iPS cells sidestep the issue of destroying embryos, the use of these cells could help scientists determine how the neurons of an autistic person, for example, are different from the neurons of an individual without autism. However, the science is not easy and the differences between the neurons, for example, created by different research groups can be significant enough to affect our understanding of a disease model. Standardization and careful research must then become the norm in this field if researchers hope to translate their findings into lasting therapeutic options for patients.

Digital Notebooks for Stem Cell Research

The widespread adaptation of digital notebooks to support stem cell research efforts could be an important “game changer” for the field. Here are a few reasons why:

Standardization: If there are one thousand research groups making neurons from stem cells, there might also be one thousand ways to do so. This creates issues where the types of neurons being created by the different groups are not comparable and thus data and results can not be easily replicated from one location to the next. In order to address this issue, digital notebooks — at least within institutions — should be widely adapted in order to ensure that the processes of producing certain cells are standardized. Digital notebooks also support privacy walls that enable certain data to be accessible (and likewise other data to be inaccessible), which ensures that researchers do not compromise their research efforts by posting their techniques.

Resources preservation: There are many different protocols published for producing stem cells or inducing stem cells to become different cell types; however, some are either wasteful of resources or do not truly work. The use of digital notebooks can help researchers keep careful note of which protocols have been verified to work, which can subsequently save the lab’s funds and research efforts by preventing different group members from separately trying the same poor protocols. This information that can be stored within the digital notebooks and thus serves as an important resource for all other lab members (either those who switch projects or those who have just joined).

Characterize cells: Each time stem cells are induced to become different cell types, a myriad of conditions might affect the development of these cells, such as the temperature, exposure to light, CO2 levels in the incubator, etc. In order to ensure that the neurons a person is culturing are actually neurons, digital notebooks can be used to facilitate the characterization of cells. Thus, whenever cells are produced in the lab, there should be a battery of tests that should be done to ensure that the cells are the right kinds. These include antibody testing for certain markers and other means to identify cell types. By completing this process before continuing with additional experiments, researchers can use digital notebooks to increase the robustness and significance of their data while significantly saving time and energy.

Stem cell research holds the potential to greatly expand our understanding of particular diseases and ailments, as well as provide valuable information to support the development of treatments. To keep pace in this field, it’s important to utilize efficient and comprehensive technology. To learn more about how the BIOVIA Notebook can support your lab’s research efforts, please contact us today.

  1. “Stem cell controversy,” June 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell_controversy
  2. “Stem Cell Information,” March 2015, http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics6.aspx
  3. “The Trials of Stem Cell Therapy,” September 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/science/stem-cell-progress-begins-to-catch-up-to-promise.html?_r=0
  4. “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS),” https://www.stemcell.ucla.edu/induced-pluripotent-stem-cells

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