Author: Luka Banović, Product Owner
Recently, an article written by Donavyn Coffey was published on a Blog feed of our partners at New Harvest, a research institute accelerating breakthroughs in cellular agriculture. The article mentions a concept we’ve had under development for quite some time that we’d like to expand on in this blog post. We’re on a mission to circumvent the problem of redundancy of laboratory equipment through provision of custom industrial and scientific research technology solutions.
When visiting research facilities in the past years it was not uncommon to spot piles of laboratory equipment that remained unopened or have been declared redundant after a few tries. “It’s just here, we’ve purchased it for a project a few years ago, but now no one is using it…” is a common note that points to it. Arguments like “it works but isn’t quite what we needed so we’ve put together this rig on our own…” are not too seldom during such visits either. Lab equipment quickly becoming redundant is a well-reknown global problem to which no complete end-to-end solution has been found to date.
Due to such a high global occurrence of this problem, it’s fair to assume that the reasons for it are of systemic origins. Equipment purchases in the field of scientific research are often executed through project funding. In project budget allocation it is a common practice to absolutely max out on the portion of funds that is specified as available for lab equipment. Why not? If you don’t spend all that you have available on equipment, that money is gone. You aren’t allowed to reallocate it to any other segment of the funding scheme, or other project. Moreover, the personal risk the researchers are taking in such cases is much smaller compared to if they had to buy such equipment with their own or their company’s private money. What is more, some labs have a very hard time selling the unused equipment due to their organizational policies.
This phenomenon has several consequences. Imagine having to buy a 200k+ piece of lab equipment. If it was private money, you’d be very considerate, careful and responsible when deciding about what you’d get for that sum. Also, you’d be very unhappy if after 1 year you’d realize that this piece of equipment can no longer serve your progress. This is a very real scenario and there are two common exit routes out of it.
Some decide to steer their work to make it compatible with this piece of equipment, which they’ve paid a lot of money for. This is, of course, suboptimal as it forces a researcher to compromise and detour from their original plan. If it’s not private money you are spending, you walk away from your purchase and seek other options. This is still time-consuming and not optimal for the work you’re doing, but at least, in this case, the financial risk you are taking is a part of someone else’s problem.
Although for different reasons, both cases are limiting to the researcher’s work and are unsustainable.
What can we do about it?
At IRNAS we’ve set out on a mission to offer a new approach to solving this problem. What if you didn’t need to buy the equipment in the first place? What if researchers could partner up with technological development companies and work with them to explore needs, plans, ideas and limitations together. This way, we’re there to adjust the technology as your work grows and make sure it never becomes a limiting factor in the process.
After a few successful partnerships we’ve seen that often the financial burden stays the same, the difference is in the maximized output value due to the fact that the equipment is always in-line with the researcher’s needs. This way researchers can dedicate full focus on their work (which is what they are good at and, ultimately, paid for) where engineers can cover the engineering.
In time we’ve grown a higher level of appreciation and understanding towards the complexity that is required in certain cases. We’ve proceeded to build platforms such as Vitaprint or Modular Bioreactor, which we use as a baseline for further development in order to be able to accelerate our process and deliver fine-tuned custom industrial and scientific research technology solutions quickly and efficiently.
Both New Harvest and IRNAS believe that making a difference requires breaking regular patterns and practices and approach challenges from a new perspective. New Harvest’s mission is to build a strong foundation of cell culture research. They wish to influence the world to re-think animal products supply chain so a sustainable and affordable food can be provided to ever-growing population. Unfortunately, this field is yet to become well-representedn in the global scheme of research funding mechanisms, which is where New Harvest comes in. They call themselves a “nonprofit nucleus of the burgeoning cellular agriculture landscape”, funding projects that do not fit into parameters of any traditional funding source. They support open science to challenge IP-inefficiency occurring from research done by private companies and excluded from public domains. Their work has an immense impact on the environment, public health and animals.