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Campaign Fights Lab Sloppiness

"Scientists Against Sample Abuse" aims to raise awareness about the importance of consistency when it comes to handling biological samples.

By | September 28, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, RETAMA

BioCision, a biotech company based in Larkspur, California, that develops temperature-controlling products such as special alloy eppendorf tube racks that protect biological samples during rapid and repeated freezing, is launching a tongue-in-cheek campaign with the serious aim of standardizing laboratory practices to ensure the quality of cell and tissue samples. Things as simple as opening and closing a freezer door can affect samples more severely depending on their placement within the freezer, and must be considered. Gene expression, for example, can be differentially affected by temperature, as thermaolabile genes become activated under different freezing conditions.

Inconsistencies in how samples are handled can thus result in different gene expression signatures, and may explain at least some cases where disease targets identified in a basic biology lab fail to generate successful drugs in translational studies, BioCision researchers argue.

"We are trained as scientists to be rigorous in controlling so many variables of our experiments, to take extra care as we operate highly sensitive instruments and assays," Maria Thompson, head of scientific affairs at BioCision, wrote in a Scientific American blog post. But scientists don't always address the simpler aspects of studies, such as the freezing of samples, she added.

The campaign, called "Scientists Against Sample Abuse," details some of these problems, provides a forum for reporting sample abuse in the lab, and offers a petition to join the movement. The effort will randomly select participating three scientists each month for the rest of the year to receive a free BioCision product of their choice.

"We hope scientists will find humor in [the campaign]," Thompson wrote. "But, we also hope that biomedical researchers and clinicians will take a step back from their experimental protocols and re-think the sources of variability in their experiments.… As individuals, we can feel overwhelmed by the problems of sample handling, but as a community, we can solve them."

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Anonymous

September 29, 2011

It's old news now, but there was a time when a patient with third degree burns on more than a third of his/her body was pretty much a goner.

My sister did intracellular research, working with small animals, which were traumatized for sake of research that was expected to, and did, lead to saving many human lives.  No, she didn't win the war single handedly. Nobody does that.  But she did write papers and chapters in medical texts that had an impact.

This is not about that.  This is about quality of work.  My sister just happened to be a stickler for correct data (no matter how received outside the lab), meticulous reporting (no fudge, no budge) and allowing results when they were completely a result of something she originated, to be authored under another name and including her under the expression "my colleagues and I."  But this is not about that, either.

What this comment is about is sloppy work.

Sis was offered the assistance of students by Dr. "I" (as in my assistants and I), which she came to dread like plague.  The were unreliable. She did not want to compare soup to nuts and, therefore, if the room housing the control group in a population were in the dark for twelve hours out of any 24, then the treated population was to be in the dark for twelve hours out of that 24. Otherwise, there would no way of knowing whether the periods of light and dark impacted results for both groups. And research consistency did not, to her, mean what student "assistants" were attentative to such consistencies on WEEK DAYS ONLY.

If Sis was in town on a weekend, she stop by the lab to make sure air conditioner settings were as specified, that the lights had been turned off or left on as planned, etc.

And if you've been there as a researcher, done this, you've going to love this:

Sis began to find lights left on all weekend, the thermostat turned up by 10 degrees above the specified setting, the smell of smoke, and cigarette buts in the trash cans and on the floors in one room or another where the experimental subjects and controls were.

She documented each such departure from proper procedure, and repeatedly reported the discrepanacies. On more than one occasion she requested the project be aborted and restarted because of substantial corruption of clearly designated procedures. Yet when the time came for Sis to sign off on the report saying all guidelines had been faithfully adherred to, and she declined, she came near being fired for insubordination. (Yes, NOT lying, in some research contexts can be deemed by some superiors reported to, as insubordination.)

Not only can cigarette smoke and stale butts impact animals on the edge between life and death but, also, where some of the animals were in oxygen tents, hazards were raised for equipment, buildings and human occupants of those buildings.

Sis was reminded that time of completing the experiment was of the essence because of a conference at which a paper was to read by the august Dr. "I," to which reminder she responded that this was a research study for development of treatment protocols of human burn victims. And she would not budge.

Threatened with being fired, she responded that she had documented all details, and would document this conversation, too, and, if fired, would file suit against all the principals involved.

Do I need to tell you she never got another raise or promotion after that? You would have to know Sis to appreaciet this, but she's not a caver-in.

Dr. "I" took it upon himself to edit the reports my sister had written, had a receptionist type them up, and proceeded to file the new improved version. retype it. 

Reliable research, some believe, is a product of a proper "scientifically ethical attitude."

Some great thinker once remarked that honesty is what we have when we are not certain our behavior is untraceable.

With some people, it's what they do REGARDLESS.

Sis, even now, in retirement, is one of that variety.
 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 29, 2011

It's old news now, but there was a time when a patient with third degree burns on more than a third of his/her body was pretty much a goner.

My sister did intracellular research, working with small animals, which were traumatized for sake of research that was expected to, and did, lead to saving many human lives.  No, she didn't win the war single handedly. Nobody does that.  But she did write papers and chapters in medical texts that had an impact.

This is not about that.  This is about quality of work.  My sister just happened to be a stickler for correct data (no matter how received outside the lab), meticulous reporting (no fudge, no budge) and allowing results when they were completely a result of something she originated, to be authored under another name and including her under the expression "my colleagues and I."  But this is not about that, either.

What this comment is about is sloppy work.

Sis was offered the assistance of students by Dr. "I" (as in my assistants and I), which she came to dread like plague.  The were unreliable. She did not want to compare soup to nuts and, therefore, if the room housing the control group in a population were in the dark for twelve hours out of any 24, then the treated population was to be in the dark for twelve hours out of that 24. Otherwise, there would no way of knowing whether the periods of light and dark impacted results for both groups. And research consistency did not, to her, mean what student "assistants" were attentative to such consistencies on WEEK DAYS ONLY.

If Sis was in town on a weekend, she stop by the lab to make sure air conditioner settings were as specified, that the lights had been turned off or left on as planned, etc.

And if you've been there as a researcher, done this, you've going to love this:

Sis began to find lights left on all weekend, the thermostat turned up by 10 degrees above the specified setting, the smell of smoke, and cigarette buts in the trash cans and on the floors in one room or another where the experimental subjects and controls were.

She documented each such departure from proper procedure, and repeatedly reported the discrepanacies. On more than one occasion she requested the project be aborted and restarted because of substantial corruption of clearly designated procedures. Yet when the time came for Sis to sign off on the report saying all guidelines had been faithfully adherred to, and she declined, she came near being fired for insubordination. (Yes, NOT lying, in some research contexts can be deemed by some superiors reported to, as insubordination.)

Not only can cigarette smoke and stale butts impact animals on the edge between life and death but, also, where some of the animals were in oxygen tents, hazards were raised for equipment, buildings and human occupants of those buildings.

Sis was reminded that time of completing the experiment was of the essence because of a conference at which a paper was to read by the august Dr. "I," to which reminder she responded that this was a research study for development of treatment protocols of human burn victims. And she would not budge.

Threatened with being fired, she responded that she had documented all details, and would document this conversation, too, and, if fired, would file suit against all the principals involved.

Do I need to tell you she never got another raise or promotion after that? You would have to know Sis to appreaciet this, but she's not a caver-in.

Dr. "I" took it upon himself to edit the reports my sister had written, had a receptionist type them up, and proceeded to file the new improved version. retype it. 

Reliable research, some believe, is a product of a proper "scientifically ethical attitude."

Some great thinker once remarked that honesty is what we have when we are not certain our behavior is untraceable.

With some people, it's what they do REGARDLESS.

Sis, even now, in retirement, is one of that variety.
 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 29, 2011

It's old news now, but there was a time when a patient with third degree burns on more than a third of his/her body was pretty much a goner.

My sister did intracellular research, working with small animals, which were traumatized for sake of research that was expected to, and did, lead to saving many human lives.  No, she didn't win the war single handedly. Nobody does that.  But she did write papers and chapters in medical texts that had an impact.

This is not about that.  This is about quality of work.  My sister just happened to be a stickler for correct data (no matter how received outside the lab), meticulous reporting (no fudge, no budge) and allowing results when they were completely a result of something she originated, to be authored under another name and including her under the expression "my colleagues and I."  But this is not about that, either.

What this comment is about is sloppy work.

Sis was offered the assistance of students by Dr. "I" (as in my assistants and I), which she came to dread like plague.  The were unreliable. She did not want to compare soup to nuts and, therefore, if the room housing the control group in a population were in the dark for twelve hours out of any 24, then the treated population was to be in the dark for twelve hours out of that 24. Otherwise, there would no way of knowing whether the periods of light and dark impacted results for both groups. And research consistency did not, to her, mean what student "assistants" were attentative to such consistencies on WEEK DAYS ONLY.

If Sis was in town on a weekend, she stop by the lab to make sure air conditioner settings were as specified, that the lights had been turned off or left on as planned, etc.

And if you've been there as a researcher, done this, you've going to love this:

Sis began to find lights left on all weekend, the thermostat turned up by 10 degrees above the specified setting, the smell of smoke, and cigarette buts in the trash cans and on the floors in one room or another where the experimental subjects and controls were.

She documented each such departure from proper procedure, and repeatedly reported the discrepanacies. On more than one occasion she requested the project be aborted and restarted because of substantial corruption of clearly designated procedures. Yet when the time came for Sis to sign off on the report saying all guidelines had been faithfully adherred to, and she declined, she came near being fired for insubordination. (Yes, NOT lying, in some research contexts can be deemed by some superiors reported to, as insubordination.)

Not only can cigarette smoke and stale butts impact animals on the edge between life and death but, also, where some of the animals were in oxygen tents, hazards were raised for equipment, buildings and human occupants of those buildings.

Sis was reminded that time of completing the experiment was of the essence because of a conference at which a paper was to read by the august Dr. "I," to which reminder she responded that this was a research study for development of treatment protocols of human burn victims. And she would not budge.

Threatened with being fired, she responded that she had documented all details, and would document this conversation, too, and, if fired, would file suit against all the principals involved.

Do I need to tell you she never got another raise or promotion after that? You would have to know Sis to appreaciet this, but she's not a caver-in.

Dr. "I" took it upon himself to edit the reports my sister had written, had a receptionist type them up, and proceeded to file the new improved version. retype it. 

Reliable research, some believe, is a product of a proper "scientifically ethical attitude."

Some great thinker once remarked that honesty is what we have when we are not certain our behavior is untraceable.

With some people, it's what they do REGARDLESS.

Sis, even now, in retirement, is one of that variety.
 

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