A group of research scientists from Silicon Valley are beginning to pioneer a new application for the cloud: medical experiments.
Scientists involved in the project hope to drastically reduce the cost of pre-clinical research by automating the lab and putting test results in the cloud, according to The Wall Street Journal. Many of the participating labs are run by software programs, and experiments are largely automated and performed by robots. Researches can remotely access test data and be sent results.
Emerald Therapeutics is one of the companies trying to democratize medical research. Emerald's founders realized their lab could be turned into a business when one of their team members reported that she had processed and done cell counts on over 50,000 microscopic images in less than two years. A similar task done manually would have taken a scientist more than a decade to complete, according to Emerald co-founder Brian Frezza.
Emerald was originally created as a lab to develop potential treatments for viral infections like HIV and Frezza and his partner needed a highly efficient lab that would boost the productivity of a single worker tenfold. They implemented software that allows lab equipment to be interconnected and measures every detail of an experiment. From this, Emerald Therapeutics was born.
Making research available to everyone
Life sciences, a field which includes DNA and cancer research, has a historically high cost of entry for lab research. The necessary equipment to stock a basic lab can easily cost $1 million to start, as well as additional operational and staffing costs. Emerald's founders wanted lab research opportunities to be available to all, not just those with big bucks to shell out on costly lab spaces
"Anyone with a credit card and an Internet connection will be able to go and run experiments," Emerald co-found D.J. Kleinbaum said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
The company believes potential customers will include established institutions lacking sufficient manpower or specific tools for certain experiments as well as individual researchers and startups without a lab at all.
"We really hope this system, in addition to supporting labs that are currently doing research, will also enable people to do their own research and form new companies for a fraction of the cost it currently takes," said Kleinbaum.
Emerald Therapeutics is currently capable of carrying out 40 standardized life sciences tests, but expects to support as many as 120 within the next year and a half as the platform becomes more scalable, Re/code reported. The goal is to have clients interact solely with the company online. Customers can specify the parameters of their experiments and check results from the company's website.
The hands-off approach Emerald employs is an effort to make the most of the cloud's ability to collect massive amounts of data. Minute details like the material composition of a piece of equipment or room temperature during an experiment would most likely get lost in a piles of paper if written by hand. A computer, however, can easily track and store the data and make it available later on so researchers can get the most out of their work.