Postdoctoral researcher Alfredo Picado, Ph.D., works at the SGC lab at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
Postdoctoral researcher Alfredo Picado, Ph.D., works at the SGC lab at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Researchers in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy are taking part in an experiment in experimentation by making their research publicly available as it happens.

Postdoctoral research associates Alfredo Picado, Ph.D., and Carla Alamillo Ferrer, Ph.D., are participants in the Structural Genomics Consortium’s Extreme Open Science Initiative, which encourages SGC scientists in labs around the world to publish their notes online.

The UNC-Chapel Hill hub of the SGC, run by Tim Willson, Ph.D., conducts open research into new protein kinase inhibitors with the aim of expanding drug discovery and creation.

The norm in science is to guard data until publication while the open science program aims to provide public access to data as research is conducted, allowing others to review SGC researchers’ work in progress, Willson said. Willson said he hopes embracing open science can help the SGC advance its research.

“Science is about being bold and taking risks,” he said. “Much of the research we have in the SGC lab is about picking bold, novel approaches to solving scientific problems. To innovate on innovation, as it were.  And one of these innovations is our open lab notebook experiment.”

The SGC is one of the first organizations to take the “extreme” step of making scientists’ lab notes available on a day-to-day basis, rather than waiting until research is complete before publishing, Willson said.

“We’re trying to push the boundaries about how open this research can be,” he said.

Extreme open science connects SGC researchers from the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the University of Toronto and the University of Oxford. Their lab notes will be published online, accompanied by explanatory blog posts.

Aled Edwards, Ph.D., director of the SGC and a professor at the University of Toronto, said greater openness has the potential to disrupt how science is conducted.

“We’re encouraging our scientists to publish not just their results, but the methods and how they conducted their experiments as they are happening,” he said. “We’re really trying to rethink how we can collaborate to advance science.”

Postdoctoral researcher Carla Alamillo Ferrer, Ph.D., uploads her lab data biweekly to the SGC Extreme Open Science website.
Postdoctoral researcher Carla Alamillo Ferrer, Ph.D., uploads her lab data biweekly to the SGC Extreme Open Science website.

Picado is researching potential inhibitors for DRAK2, a serine/threonine kinase associated with autoimmune diseases.

“We’re really early in the discovery process,” he said. “Having all of these postdocs working together is great because it makes all this research go so much faster.”

He posts results and data monthly on the SGC website.

“The posts are a snapshot of my research,” he said. “With the posts, I’m saying, ‘This is my problem, and here’s how I’m planning to solve it.’”

Alamillo Ferrer is studying the CDK family of kinases and their interactions with analogues of the inhibitor SNS-032.

She said there is always a concern that her openly available research will get ‘scooped’ but believes in the potential benefits of working with other scientists’ feedback.

“These kinases are the ones that have not received much attention in the literature,” she said. “I think it’s very helpful to collaborate with other chemists because we all benefit from the shared data and knowledge.”

Other scientists are encouraged to weigh in on the SGC research as it is reported online with hopes that the collaboration will accelerate discovery of new medicines and cultivate open dialogue.

“I’d like to see if our young scientists can change the mindset so that people are less protective about their data and more open about it,” Willson said. “At the end of the day, you want to collaborate with the best scientists in the world. If you can get this information out there, it makes that easier.”

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