ABS is not entering a new market. This post is about Internet marketplaces and their limitations when seeking solutions for custom products and services. Connecting buyers and sellers for online transactions is commonplace and works very well for anything from household products to computers. Amazon is pervasive. In recent years, scientific marketplaces have come onto the scene.
Some marketplaces offer a conglomeration of offerings from various companies. Others allow buyers to post a project and sellers respond to the post with a price quote for the product or service. Sometimes the marketplace acts as an intermediary to relay information. Sometimes the buyer and seller are directly connected. This is less common. In many cases, there is little communication other than price.
Reviews of online products can be used to select a potential vendor but are subject to interpretation and questionable validation. Without live interaction with a qualified informed partner, it is difficult to be guaranteed that all scientific requirements are met.
For commodities, seeking products or services based primarily on price offers some advantages for buyers. Sourcing based upon price assumes that quality is maintained and there are no special distinguishing features for what is offered. In the scientific realm this may work for products such as cell culture media, glass slides, standard laboratory chemicals, etc.; but it oversimplifies the needs of scientific projects that require understanding to achieve the best outcome.
For complex research custom products and services, the situation is much different. This brings us to brain surgery for $9,995. This might be a good price for a brain surgeon. I don’t know. I suppose some type of bidding platform might reveal what is a competitive price if one had confidence in surgeons who bid for business. However, if I were looking into this either for myself or a loved one, I would want to know a great deal more and have far more in-depth discussions before undergoing an operation. The situation is similar for many scientific products or services, especially those that require a high level of expertise and customization.
A CRISPR knock-out of a difficult to transfect cell line, the development of a multi-label IHC assay, or optimization of a membrane binding preparation for a specific ion channel sub-type all require expertise, discussion of client needs, and customization. Reliability, collaborative service, and the capacity to deliver on time are essential in each of these cases. However, some marketplaces do not facilitate or even acknowledge these differentiators.
Opportunities for real solutions to problems and true collaboration are sometimes lost with online platforms. For example, we have had clients ask for large quantities of cells when, after discussion, we learned that the true need was large quantities of a specific protein. Similarly, clients have requested formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) blocks when the ultimate need was an IHC assay for a specific bio-marker. Without a collaborative discussion, a clients’ true needs could be missed, and the solution provided would have been inferior.
The online supply of human tissues either through marketplaces or web stores is becoming more common. This raises issues on several levels. Appropriate care may not be given to tissue quality. In fact, there are many companies that are nothing more than brokers with little and often no ability to assess tissue quality. Likewise, one must be certain that online suppliers meet all ethical and legal requirements. This includes reviews of donor consent forms and collection sites audits. This information is often lacking with online sites.
There are hundreds of scientific papers that address the importance of collection methods, tissue handling, and storage on the suitability of tissues for research. It is perfectly possible to make measurements and obtain data from inadequately collected tissues, but the results bear little resemblance to normal biochemistry or physiology. Metabolite levels, protein phosphorylation, and a multitude of biochemical variables can change dramatically depending upon collection and storage methods. These must be known and controlled to make any reasonable conclusions.
Some products and services are commodities, and some are not. It is important to appreciate the difference when considering a scientific partner. This is particularly true for complex services or biological materials. The possible convenience of some online sites may seem attractive, but scientific research is too important to leave to a few lines of posted text. It requires understanding, expertise, and collaboration to achieve success.