Can Electronic Laboratory Notebooks Help Researchers Win Science’s Most Dangerous Game?

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electronic laboratory notebooks
The brain is the last frontier of biomedical science. Can using electronic laboratory notebooks help science to uncover the nature of this last frontier?
Image source: Flickr user Joseph Elsbernd

Diseases of the nervous system are among the hardest to treat. For neuroscientists, the brain remains a “black box” of sorts, though recent initiatives from President Obama and the NIH hope to uncover some of what is within the darkest of scientific boxes1. The hope is that by understanding how the billions of neurons form and make trillions of synapses and work together to give us movement, consciousness and emotions, researchers will better understand how these processes are disrupted in psychiatric and neurological disease.

One of the most fundamental goals of neuroscience is uncovering how neurons distinguish themselves from others. For example, how does a serotonin neuron know its function within a network of other serotonin neurons or distinguish itself from nearby dopaminergic neurons? The answer to this question could lie in different biological mechanisms known as alternative splicing as well as promoter choice2. Together, these activities generate a diverse array of proteins on neuronal surfaces. These proteins then react from protein-protein interactions with other neurons, which lead to repulsion or attraction. Subsequently, missing these proteins can result in attraction where repulsion was supposed to dominate, leading to miswired neurons3. It seems logical, then, that certain diseases might alter these protein-protein interactions leading to aberrant wiring that might underlie depression, anxiety, autism and a number of other disorders. But the research is complicated and researchers must consider how all of these protein networks work together

Electronic laboratory notebooks to organize Neuroscience Data

Given the complexity of the brain and the disparate research efforts to decipher its intricacies, researchers studying neuronal diversity should use electronic laboratory notebooks to organize their efforts. Electronic laboratory notebooks have been used to tackle efforts in big data and can similarly be employed to improve our understanding of neuronal diversity. Here are specific ways in which electronic laboratory notebooks can advance neuroscience:

  • What’s been done? In beginning or continuing a research program to understand neuronal diversity, researchers must consider what has been done. Luckily, electronic laboratory notebooks are an excellent means by which researchers can upload information from literature and share it with other members of their groups, thus increasing the power of their collaborative efforts. By ensuring everyone has access to the previous data record, researchers avoid ambiguities and ensure that all members are on the same page. Similarly, for research projects completed in the lab, privacy settings on electronic laboratory notebooks ensure that group members have access to the latest data without fear that the data will be leaked.
  • What do the results tell us? With an easily searchable format, electronic laboratory notebooks enable researchers to determine “what’s next.” In other words, how can previous results inform our understanding of neuronal diversity. As described above, there is a significant amount of data on how neurons might develop their separate identity, but many of the groups are either studying alternative splicing alone, or promoter choice with the protocadherin genes, or how neuroligins create protein-protein interactions by themselves, etc. By looking at a group’s results and comparing it to the research record, electronic laboratory notebooks allow researchers to determine how the results of different groups might fit together to tell a story about neuronal diversity.
  • Next steps and next experiments. Once this information has been collected and interpreted with the help of electronic laboratory notebooks, the next step involves determining the subsequent experiments to run. Instead of running poor experiments or experiments done by other groups, the presentation of past and recent data in front of researchers enables them to make careful choices about their next steps. The use of electronic laboratory notebooks provides an excellent means to increase productivity, establish trends and ensure that the most fruitful experiments are done first.

Neuroscience is considered the “last frontier” of biomedical research. As mentioned, one of the most important questions in this field is how neurons acquire their self-identity as distinct from other neurons like them and other neurons quite different from them. Electronic laboratory notebooks could significantly assist neuroscientists in organizing, deciphering and planning experiments and should be considered by group members and managers. To consider how the BIOVIA Notebook can assist in your research, please contact us today.

  1. “The White House Brain Initiative,” September 20, 2014, https://www.whitehouse.gov/share/brain-initiative
  2. “Alternative Splicing in the Mammalian Nervous System: Recent Insights into Mechanisms and Functional Roles,” July 1, 2015, http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(15)00411-0
  3. “Chemoaffinity revisited: Dscams, protocadherins, and neural circuit assembly,” October 29, 2010, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867410011451

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