All of us want to be able to count on the reliability of our own data and that of others. There is a plague of non-reproducible studies in the scientific literature. Regular complaints are heard from journal editors and reviewers. Lack of reliability varies from minor experimental inaccuracies to a complete lack of reproducibility. The major cause of this problem is inattention to factors that can be addressed by more rigorous control of processes. Unreliable data costs time, money, and sometimes careers. For a detailed discussion of this problem, see: Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions by Richard Harris.
Making biomedical research more reliable has been a guiding principle in our work for over 30 years. Experimental biological research begins with the cells, tissues, and their extracts that are its foundation. Without well characterized cells and tissues, biological experimentation is not possible. This is the first step in achieving reliable reproducible data. This blog describes the processes that you can use to accomplish that crucial first step and those that follow.
Reliability for any experiment or project has two components: competence and process. Competence requires ability and experience. That is why, at ABS, all technical staff have a bachelor’s degree or higher in the biological sciences. Applicants are rigorously screened using written and hands-on tests prior to hiring. Then, they are trained, and the success of their training is evaluated before they undertake any client projects. ABS’ 30+ years of focus on cell and tissue related services are documented and passed on through this training. While academic credentials are important, these continuous evaluations, training events, and testing processes that pass on our organizational expertise are even more crucial.
Processes ensure repeatability and consistency. The above processes are one aspect of this. There are also a range of other essential processes. ABS employs a quality management system to ensure that these processes are consistently followed. We are ISO 9001:2015 certified. Under this international client-centric quality assurance system every aspect of our business is documented, monitored, and audited both internally and externally. We continuously make sure that every process is reproducible and can be transferred easily and seamlessly among staff. Likewise, we regularly look for ways to improve these processes and we have a process for doing so.
Of course, there is an art to science. Creativity is essential, but your next cell bank or membrane preparation should meet your exact specifications and be prepared using consistent procedures. Human biospecimen samples must have all necessary legal and informed consent documentation in place every time. Similarly, every sample must be collected, processed, and stored as consistently as possible to minimize experimental variations and enhance reproducibility.
Your experiments should not vary because this or that technician had a different idea of what is best. Best practices must be documented, implemented, and monitored. Biological variation is a consistent research issue. It need not be compounded by lack of expertise or process controls.
The cells, tissues, and related services that are the starting point of your research are ABS’ focus. To learn more about how our expertise and processes can add reliability and value to your research, please contact us.
As a side note, if you would like to learn more about how to gauge the reliability and trustworthiness of an individual or a company, I recommend Sizing People Up by Robin Dreeke, a former FBI agent.