Electronic Laboratory Notebooks Can Drive Success in Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative

ELN, Lab Organization

electronic laboratory notebook
President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative was met with fanfare from physicians and researchers. However, to ensure the initiative’s success, scientists should consider the use of novel technologies such as electronic laboratory notebooks.
Image Source: Flickr user U.S. Army RDECOM

On January 30, 2015, President Barack Obama unveiled his $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), precision medicine “is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”1 And the reason for considering all of these components? Ultimately, the likelihood that a person can be successfully treated by a medicine, or likewise find a normally successful treatment useless, is the various ways these factors (i.e. genes, environment, lifestyle), come together to determine the type and mechanisms of disease in a specific person. For example, cancer biologists are increasingly realizing that cancer is not one disease but is instead a “constellation of disease”2 and so one drug or therapeutic intervention is unlikely to be a cure-all.

Ultimately, what will lead to the success or failure of this initiative will be the ability of researchers to tame the wild west of Big Data.3 Big data generally refers to “data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, and information privacy.”4 Thus, the challenges of precision medicine are aligned with the challenges of managing big data sets, which is not simply a problem for cancer biologists but also a challenge for those who work in the physical sciences or other fields in which the ability to acquire data far outpace researchers’ abilities to analyze it.

Moreover, with big data sets come “big collaboration” efforts, often between international centers. Managing data, access, people and all the complexities of conducting effective research can be difficult for the most competent of research groups.

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks: An Answer to Big Data and Big Collaboration

Electronic laboratory notebooks serve as important tools towards organizing complex information in ways that are easily accessible to team members. Both members of the Precision Medicine Initiative and all others in fields working with large data sets should consider the ways in which electronic laboratory notebooks could improve their efficiency and work output. Following are specific features of electronic laboratory notebooks that are especially helpful to those working with big data.

  • Security: Electronic laboratory notebooks are an excellent option for securing important data, which is especially important when one considers that precision medicine strives to collect as much data as possible about individuals to determine the therapeutic options most likely to work. Electronic laboratory notebooks have features such as secure logins that validate an individual’s identity as well as audit trails and timestamps to determine a researcher’s last login. These features can help reduce instances of fraud or stolen data, thus protecting organizations as well as the individuals and companies they serve.
  • Collaboration: ELNs help standardize the process of entering data (i.e. hypothesis, experimental setup, etc.), thus providing added benefits such as searchability and data linking. Additionally, with secure logins, collaborations for international sites can remotely login to the software in order to monitor the progress of experiments and research, providing real-time feedback before an experiment is already complete and money potentially wasted.

Electronic laboratory notebooks provide a powerful means to support the work of researchers and scientists, especially those who must work with large datasets and often have a long list of collaborations. To determine how the BIOVIA Notebook can help your company deal with big data issues or other concerns, please contact us today.

  1. “Obama gives East Room rollout to Precision Medicine Initiative,” January 30, 2015, http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/01/obama-gives-east-room-rollout-precision-medicine-initiative
  2. “A constellation of diseases,” Winter 2013, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/winter13/articles/winter13pg2-3.html
  3. “Big Data Key to Precision Medicine’s Success,” April 15, 2015, http://weill.cornell.edu/news/news/2015/04/big-data-key-to-precision-medicines-success-mark-rubin-rainu-kaushal.html
  4. “Big Data,” August 2, 2014, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data

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