The Evolution of the Digital Lab: Where Are We Now?

Digitalizing the life sciences lab is more than just basic computerization. As Eric Banks, senior director of data science at the Broad Institute pointed out at Thermo Fisher Scientific’s recent Launch2018 event, if a lab isn’t computerized in 2018, it is well behind the curve.


Banks was one of several experts who participated in  a panel discussion on the evolution of the digital lab at Thermo Fisher’s annual user group meeting in Boston Nov. 5-6. Panelists shared ideas, experiences and insights on the role of digitalization in life sciences, trends and challenges, future-proofing information technology systems and building a digitally integrated lab.


Big data is one of the biggest trends transforming science, and reliable collection and management of large amounts of data is foundational to life sciences work. In fields such as biobanking, biologics, drug discovery, genomics and next-generation sequencing, scientists, researchers and data managers all need streamlined, digitally integrated and automated solutions.


Julia Karow, senior editor at GenomeWeb and moderator of the panel, recounted how 20 years ago life sciences laboratories were entirely manual. She could even remember reading a DNA sequence from X-ray film while a colleague recorded it on paper.


While there’s certainly been an industry shift away from paper record keeping over the last 20 years, today digitalization in life sciences means going beyond spreadsheet software. Looking to the future, the panel addressed the importance of transitioning data collection and storage to cloud-based platforms to automate the process across the organization. As Chris Henry, director of platform sciences at Epic Sciences pointed out, optimizing digitalization will allow scientists and researchers to collect data at scale.


Panelists also shared insights on balancing the need for data security and encryption with the need for data sharing. Security is particularly a concern when it comes to sharing private, protected patient information from clinical trials.


Preparing for future advances in digitalization means adapting to the constantly changing needs of the life sciences community. Thermo Fisher Vice President of Digital Science Research and Development Anthony Uzzo shared the company’s commitment to adhering to open standards in data format and connectivity. For example, Thermo Fisher’s Platform for Science software enables scientists and researchers to integrate their work using Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud to enable real-time, secure research collaboration.


Panel speakers also included Epic Sciences Director of Platform Technology Chris Henry, Accenture Scientific Informatics Services Managing Director Pat Pijanowski, Cell Signaling Technologies Information Technology Lab Informatics Director Dana Seehale and Biogen Director of Scientific Computing David Sexton.