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Why can’t research procurement be as easy as finding what you need on Amazon?

July 19, 2018

Want a good book? You know where to look. A hotel in Phoenix? Kayak.com. A replacement gas tank for your 1954 Harley? eBay.

Okay, what if you’re a biomedical researcher who needs a set of specific tumor tissue samples to help discover a potentially lifesaving therapy? That might be a tough ask unless you’re online in the iSpecimen Marketplace.

Otherwise, we know it can be a challenge. Did you know that many biobanks don’t even give their own researchers a way to electronically search their own holdings? In fact, 73 percent of the participating biobanks in our recent review had no online system in place for their researchers to search their catalog for the cases and biological specimens they require. Okay, then, how about just a list or table? Only 27 percent of the participating biobanking organizations provided internal researchers with access to an online inventory list of specimens.

The biospecimen gap grows

Disconnects like these hold medicine back. Researchers need abundant supplies of human biofluids, tissue and cells for their work, and their needs are getting only more challenging as the precision medicine era calls for increasingly selective biospecimens. Biobanks, created to advance treatments and cures, are often collecting more samples than they release and are restricting their samples to in-house researchers.

Complicating matters is the way many biobanks manage specimen inventory and data. More than half of the respondents in our review said their biobanks are using Microsoft®️ Excel®️ spreadsheets, Microsoft®️ Access®️, relational databases (SQL), other ad hoc systems, or no system at all. Only 40 percent manage inventory with dedicated laboratory information management systems (LIMS) software.

This specimen gap has plagued medicine for a long time. A decade ago, four out of five researchers in a National Cancer Institute study reported limiting the scope of their work because of a shortage of quality biospecimens.

Roots of a solution

iSpecimen founder and CEO Christopher J. Ianelli, MD, PhD, saw the problem up close when he worked as a pathologist in one of Boston’s finest teaching hospitals. Researchers from the medical school would come by the lab looking for biospecimens that had often just been discarded, as they were every seven days.

During that seven-day window, lab staff would try to keep track of the rolling inventory on paper. Researchers who got lucky could walk away with samples they needed for their research. Typically, it was more miss than hit, not to mention an unreliable process for advancing breakthrough research.

He improved the lab’s specimen-tracking problem with some handy IT work, eventually seeing the need to extend a similar solution to labs and biorepositories everywhere. There was no Amazon, Kayak or eBay then. Still, he was thinking along those lines, and his work inspired the creation of today’s  iSpecimen Marketplace.

Try it out yourself

Our mission is to match researchers with the samples they need wherever they are in the world. A researcher can refine a search for biospecimens as finely as a Match.com customer can for a prospective date. Researchers can specify patient diagnoses, demographics, medications, procedure history, outcomes or specific test result ranges as they search to procure an exact biospecimen match for their research.

If the world can streamline dates, book-buying, travel and motorcycle-part exchange, we can do it for medicine. Take a look at the marketplace first hand – there’s no obligation – and search as you would on any other platform.

You don’t have to buy anything, but you just might see something you’ll need for your research down the road. Sign up for free and search, any time.