As a pulmonologist who conducts a great deal of translational research on diseases of the airway and lungs, Geoffrey L. Chupp, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Yale Center for Asthma and Airway Disease, often finds himself in unfamiliar scientific territory. “I’ll find a molecule that’s interesting or I’ll come upon some piece of data where I don’t really know what I’m dealing with,” Chupp says.
But in the fast-moving world of biomedical research, finding people with specific expertise using traditional methods—searching the literature or Internet, for instance—are often inefficient. “There may be people in my own building that I don’t even know about whom I could work with or get information from,” Chupp says.
Chupp hatched an idea for a Web-based resource that would make interdisciplinary scientific collaboration quicker and easier. In 2008, he approached longtime friend Steven Greenberg, a Westport, Conn.-based journalist and attorney who recently launched Jobs4.0, an online employment resource designed to help people over age 40 find meaningful work in a tough economy.
Chupp and Greenberg built a prototype, which they demonstrated for Robert S. Sherwin, M.D., the C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine. As director of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI), Sherwin oversees many of the School of Medicine’s efforts to accelerate the pace of clinical and translational research.
“We presented our site to Dr. Sherwin because we felt that the goals of YCCI and Yale’s Clinical and Translational Science Award—collaboration, breaking down barriers and resource sharing—were remarkably well aligned with the focus of our new platform,” Greenberg says, and Sherwin agreed. “Our goal is to more effectively link scientists across the Yale campus to promote new interdisciplinary research collaborations,” Sherwin says.
Sherwin provided support that allowed Greenberg and Chupp to proceed on their project, and two years of discussions, consultations, and testing followed. “We spoke to dozens of researchers and clinicians, from lab assistants to department chairs, to make the platform as valuable as possible to the entire Yale scientific community,” says Chupp.
Finally, in March, Chupp saw his concept made real, as the new resource—dubbed the YCCI Research Accelerator (RA)—was launched. Since then, more than 300 members of the Yale community have registered to use the RA.
Yale is the first institution to have full access to this type of technology for scientific collaboration and resource sharing. The RA offers Yale scientists a comprehensive online tool they can use to share and discuss research projects, data, lab protocols, results, news of clinical trials, and advances in clinical care.
“A cancer researcher studying a particular gene has no systematic way of finding other researchers, say in immunology, asthma, or even botany, who might be studying the same gene,” Greenberg says. “The YCCI Research Accelerator is designed to facilitate those potentially rewarding collaborations.”
The service uses a novel system called data-driven collaboration to quickly and easily identify potential research partners, Chupp explains. “Other software programs allow researchers to easily find published papers or biographical information,” he says, “but we wanted to create the first-ever platform that identifies potential collaborators on the basis of a mutual interest in the substance of the data or reagents, not on purely social factors.”
Greenberg notes there is great flexibility built into the website, so that each scientist can use it in his or her own way, and each scientist can choose his or her own level of disclosure. In addition, the site can be customized for other institutions, and many institutions can be linked together, so the RA can allow scientists to reach beyond Yale to forge new research connections.
But for the site to be valuable to members of the Yale community, Greenberg says, scientists need to log on and post data. He and Chupp are encouraging all Yale researchers across the university campus to join the RA community.
“The real benefit of having this type of technology is that it will help communication about complex diseases and disorders,” says Debbie Hilibrand, chair of the Yale Child Study Center’s Executive Council. Hilibrand’s son David has both scoliosis and autism. “Autism, for instance, is [connected with] learning disabilities and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And those may also be worked on in multiple departments.” Technologies like the RA “will help research at the university become better-integrated and more effective.”
“We’ve had listings from a wide range of Yale scientists who are sharing data, reagents, antibodies, human samples, research projects, and more. The response has been extremely strong. We’re also about to post information on over 90,000 peptides available from the Keck Lab,” Greenberg says, referring to one of Yale’s main centers for protein analysis. “Much more is in the works.”
The RA is secure, password-protected, and free of charge for all Yale users. To learn more about using this powerful new tool for scientific collaboration, visit YCCI.researchaccelerator.org.