Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs), once the purview mainly of synthetic and medicinal chemists, are expanding in terms of applications and business value to become data portals and consolidation points for experiments throughout the enterprise. In the process, they are providing scientific context for a wide range of data, transforming it from information to knowledge, according to speakers at the recent “IQPC” meeting in Frankfurt.
Today’s ELNs are being rolled out for enzymology, molecular and cellular biology, pharmacology, safety, toxicology, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, as well as for the omics fields, according to Paul Denny-Gouldson, Ph.D., product manager, IDBS (www.idbs.com).
The ELN requirements to support these fields are much more complicated than those for chemistry applications, Dr. Denny-Gouldson said. They require tools for data federation, data consolidation, statistical analysis, and data visualization, creating a gap between ELNs designed for chemistry and those for biology or generic applications.
As Dr. Denny-Gouldson noted, “While generic or chemistry-focused ELNs may address intellectual property requirements, they lack dedicated tools for biologists and typically only provide a cut-and-paste repository for data, creating another step in data-processing workflow and another data silo with limited structure content.”
Because biology experiments are conducted over time, often by many people, the system needs the flexibility to respond in real-time to mid-experiment changes. And, Dr. Denny-Gouldson emphasized, biology experiments tend to be “much more subjective than the more empirical sciences,” and thus require a more dynamic approach to experimental design and data capture. The results, too, “tend to be context-rich descriptions of the outcome” and may only be valid for a specific population set.
To address these evolving needs, flexibility is the most important aspect of any ELN, according to Markus C. Hemmer, Ph.D., senior product manger, Waters (www.waters.com). Simplifying quality control is a focus of Waters’ ELN work. As Dr. Hemmer elaborates, interoperability allows ELNs working with LIMS to dynamically populate documents, eliminating repetitious steps.
Their use also is adding value by “improving the authoring of experimental records, providing better access to records, and making the signing and archiving of records faster and easier,” noted Carl Meinhof, Ph.D., principal business systems analyst, IS, R&D informatics, Amgen (www.amgen.com). Specifically, he said, ELNs eliminate the need to “cut and paste with glue and scissors,” and make it easier to locate relevant documents, ensure they contain consistent information, and, importantly, eliminate the need to decipher handwriting.
Thomas Rozlucki, vp, product development, Contur Technologies (www.contur.se), reported that Contur’s clients are seeing overall gains through having information readily available. Initially, clients are focused on scientific productivity, “but, after a few years, they realize the value of a central repository.”
“The return on investment,” Dr. Denny-Gouldson said, “doesn’t come from end-users alone, but from a combination of end-user, IT, and business benefits.” These are being demonstrated in large, global projects, and in small, localized pilots that are completed in one month.
One client, Rozlucki said, developed an ELN business case that documented annual time savings per scientist at 20 days per year. Lonza (www.lonza.com) figures a return on investment at “E15,000 per year at least, each time a user uses the ELN to access LIMS data,” according to Matthieu Giraud, Ph.D., project manager, R&D, Lonza.