Our Product Researcher Alfred Brown flew to Germany for the DeSci.Berlin conference last week, hosted by Molecule. It was the first event of its kind, aimed at bringing scientists, web3 technologists, and investors together to present and discuss the potential applications of web3 in science. The movement aims to tackle systemic problems within Science by incentivising innovation and improving access to knowledge. Along with addressing these goals, the event also provided the opportunity for the cross-pollination of ideas between different DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) and laid the groundwork for future partnerships. In this blog post, Alfie explains the relationship between web3, decentralised science (DeSci), and biotech, as well as how it can open up new possibilities for physical lab spaces. If you are unfamiliar with DeSci, a fantastic place to start is here!
I first came across DeSci while listening to the UltraRare podcast, where host Jocelynn Pearl speaks with Niklas Rindtorff and Arye Lipman, two of the leaders behind LabDAO, about their vision to democratise and disrupt the science industry by increasing access to funding and knowledge. After being inspired by this podcast (I know everyone goes around recommending podcasts, but you really should listen to it!), I got in contact with LabDAO as their vision is so well aligned with OpenCELL’s (democratising science and lowering barriers to entry in biotech) to explore future collaborations and knowledge sharing.
They invited me to DeSci.Berlin to facilitate a workshop based on the bioHOTEL physical labs and the open-source IoT sensors, which we are developing to create more data-rich laboratories. It was a great opportunity to get live feedback and hopefully inspire people to get involved. Attendees were from a variety of backgrounds from multiple continents, all with unique perspectives, composed mostly of web3 developers, life scientists, investors, and people who are simply curious about this new and emerging area.
To those unfamiliar with the sector, DeSci and web3 in general aim to democratise processes, providing solutions to real-world problems by creating incentivised communities. This felt like the perfect opportunity to learn more about potential applications, meet like-minded people, network, and build the foundations for future collaborations.
Why web3 and biotech?
Web3 is a progression from what is known as web 2.0, characterised by big, centralised networks, or companies, like Facebook and Amazon. Consumers entrust them with their data to receive a service. The idea of web3 is to move away from that and allow individuals to hold their own information and data, effectively decentralising these networks. Communities of people come together forming DAOs that act as open platforms, using voting systems to democratise decisions and incentivise collaboration. Just as in real life, communities are galvanised by core values, DeSci DAOs are focused on solving problems faced within science. The hope is that by bringing together decentralisation and all the blockchain tools that come with the web3 movement, we will be able to improve biotech and life sciences significantly.
One of the ways we hope to do this is by solving the problem of reproducibility in science. openCELL aims to slash the cost of R&D by creating an integrated laboratory information management system (LIMS) in our bioHOTEL, ultimately bringing augmentation into the lab. The goal is to limit human error and eliminate equipment failure to reduce the number of iterations required for biotech startups to get their final product.
The DeSci community is also working to improve reproducibility by creating open databases filled with scientific research stored on the blockchain. Incentives in the form of intellectual property and non-fungible tokens (IP-NFTs) will break down research into its individual components (methods, raw data, analytic tools, conclusions, etc.) so other researchers in similar areas can actually access the information they need, effectively unlocking traditional data silos: Sharing knowledge.
DAOs will have the opportunity to create global accreditation infrastructures to make sure experiments adhere to strict guidelines. This coupled to the metadata that openCELL hopes to produce from the laboratory environment will create conditions where the rate of reproducibility is far greater than current standards.
Decentralised Science for Physical Labs, the workshop
We are currently building our own open source Internet of Things (IoT) system with integrated sensors as part of openCELL’s bioHOTEL LIMS, and DeSci.Berlin was the perfect place to seek out contributors and early adopters who could give us feedback on the software and the functionality of the system in a laboratory environment.
The workshop I ran, ‘Decentralised Science for Physical Labs’, encouraged groups to quickly pick out one data output from a lab, one problem, and how it could be solved using IoT. OpenCell’s proof of concept, temperature within an incubator to monitor deviations from a nominal range, was given as the example. I gave groups the option to use personas from different life science specialties and some groups decided to take that into their own hands, creating their own futuristic diagnostics start-up! At the end, one person from each group gave a 30-second elevator pitch summarising what they came up with.
I enjoyed having so many different people with a variety of skill sets and experience in one room, talking about DeSci and its application to physical labs. Some of the most valuable outputs included getting new insights into sensor applications, thinking about how to process associated metadata so that we can create more data-rich laboratories, and networking with a whole room of people who are actively interested in contributing to the project (maybe the most valuable output of all!).
The workshop was rounded off by Thomas Landrain, founder of Just One Giant Lab (JOGL) and Duncan Mahon, founder of PhyFlo. Thomas outlined how effective open-source science is at producing high impact research at a fraction of traditional R&D costs, and emphasised the importance of maintaining a compassionate, inclusive community. He also raised the valid concern that if incentives were not implemented correctly there was risk of malicious members defrauding DeSci communities. Duncan ended with an insightful Q&A addressing some of the logistical hurdles that may be faced in the future when installing physical laboratories in decentralised locations such as for diagnostic testing.
Other cool stuff
As well as running the workshop, I attended a lot of inspiring talks, which showed the problems we were facing and the incredible potential that web3 and DeSci could have on the world around us.
One of the first talks that really stood out for me was Jack Scannell’s ‘Why was biopharma so much more productive in 1950 than today? What can we learn?’. He spoke about the issues with drug development referencing the term he coined ‘Eroom’s Law’: Drug discovery is becoming slower and more expensive every day due to the ‘bigger than the Beatles problem’, where we continue to compete against our greatest hits of the past. Similarly with drugs, they need to outperform everything else on the market if they stand a chance of being approved and commercialised. Scannell proposes (quite rightly) that the antidote to this is to increase innovation in developing preclinical models to tackle current inefficiencies in drug development.
Sönke Bartling, an interventional radiologist and researcher in medical imaging gave a talk on lessons learned from earlier science revolutions, with the aim of showing how the DeSci community can improve this time. He argued that greater investment via decentralised finance would provide the foundations for DAOs to fund research and build a scientific system in which users (scientists) have a say. Problems he predicted DeSci could solve included publishing via decentralised platforms on time-stamped blockchain, micro-grants using quadratic funding, continuous permanent open access, and an accepted content reuse culture.
Finally, Niklas Rindtorff’s talk on the ‘Current and Future Tooling for DeSci: Building blocks and what’s missing’ was another impressive and thought-provoking lecture. In his presentation, he identified access to tools, teams, and funding as the essential components of a functional laboratory. To address these areas within LabDAO he outlined the Lab Exchange, Lab Teams, and Lab Fund. Each subsection takes advantage of web3 technology to make running services, sharing data and raising funds more accessible, preventing brain drain from countries around the globe. Arguably the most relevant talk to OpenCELL, which shares the mission of reducing barriers of entry to life sciences, there is surely potential for collaboration in the future to achieve our mutual aims…
Call to Action
If you want to get involved, you can!
Right now, our proof of concept is temperature, monitoring it provides valuable ambient, background and active information within a lab. Already we have created models that link to different scenarios. For instance, our sensors can tell the difference between a fridge turning off and a fridge door being left ajar within a couple of minutes.
Future projects we need help with include: (1) extending battery life, adding new sensor repositories, like monitoring gas or humidity; and (2) thinking about the innovative sensor applications within the lab, such as data analysis and alerts. Whether it's monitoring conditions within a CO2 incubator or affordable optical density sensors for bioreactors we would love to hear your ideas!
The objective is to have every single piece of kit, including specialist equipment, giving researchers real-time information about their lab environmental conditions and experiments. The more people that contribute, the better!
If you are interested, please send a short paragraph on what you would like to work on to email@example.com.
There are often unintended consequences of new technologies, and it is our responsibility as developers and early adopters to steer the DeSci ship in the right direction. It is already clear that one of the benefits of this movement is the access to new sources of money and the amount of it for open science communities, biotech startups and academic labs. One DeSci DAO leading by example is VitaDAO, having already distributed over $2.5 million to multiple longevity research laboratories including at Newcastle University (proud Alumni moment)!
As DAOs invest more into real-world research, and their networks grow stronger, I have confidence it will become a more widely adopted route of funding, where scientists and the wider community get a say in what is researched. One thing is certain, this space is certainly one to keep an eye on, providing one of the most valuable use cases for web3 and blockchain technology out there!