How to make your lab and projects run smoothly

Introduction

With so many projects and experiments running simultaneously in your lab, it can be difficult to keep track of who is doing what. In addition, keeping corresponding data well organized and easily accessible is key to successful publications, regulatory submissions and grant funding. If you are looking for a better way to track your research projects, organize your data and keep your lab running at peak efficiency, please join us for this week’s Ask the Expert – “How to make your lab and projects run smoothly.” Please ask any questions you have about research management, specimen and logistics management, etc.

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Question 1

I have two labs both working simultaneously on projects to support our company’s IND submission. Right now we are using emails and google docs to track progress, but it is cumbersome and things have been lost. What would you recommend for sharing of timely information between two labs, pre-clin manufacturing, regulatory and upper management.

Thanks for this question. Sharing knowledge between remote labs is indeed a challenge, which we're working to tackle at Labguru too (www.labguru.com).
Your problem is even more complex as research labs and manufacturing labs tend to have different 'language' and require different set of tools (we focus solely on research labs).
It sounds like what you're looking for is a good Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that will allow for collaborative work and allow management to oversee the progress.
I cannot recommend a single system, because they are quite diverse and the decision would eventually depend on your accurate needs and budget. However, when choosing the right system, you should take into account also things like ease of installation, support and system maintenance that are sometimes overlooked but are critical for the long term success of implementing a new system. I would look also into systems that will support the next phase required to your IND submissions (see http://www.mdsol.com/ for clinical trial management and systems to support your IP requirements.)

Question 2

I’m using different systems in my lab to manage specimen, reagents and files of results from experiments. what are the advantages for working with one system that does it all?

We had the same issue in the lab I worked at - protocols partly printed , others in a shared folder, results scattered on various computers.It was the responsibility of the students for managing it, but it was never easy - especially when you had to find a file (or a real sample) of someone that left the lab. This challenge was one of my main motivations for starting Biodata and working on Labguru - we literally solve this challenge - you can add all your results, files, spreadsheets, and easily connect them in a way logical for you and your team.
The fact that Labguru is online with advanced searching capabilities makes it much easier to manage and find samples and files in your lab.
There is an obvious long term advantage - but keep in mind that it will only work if people in the lab invest and make the effort to update their work and keep the system organized and up-to-date.

Question 3

Our lab just received a sizable grant and we need to find a way to track who is working on the project and time spent on this project for reporting purposes. How would you recommend that we get started setting up an efficient tracking system.

As different granting bodies require different type of reporting - I would choose a system based two factors - the reports you'll need to generate and long term aspects for this project - if this project is going to go beyond the scope of the current grant you might want to invest in proper research documentation tools (ELN / LIMS ) ** -
- if the agency requires only time tracking - and minimal milestone progress reports -
You can go with simple tools - such as bascamp, clarizen or even google docs.

** I don't suggest starting to use a LIMS or an ELN just for reporting purposes - the investment is considerable - it should be a decision made by the lab leaders (PI / Lab Manger) based on how they want to see the lab run in the present and in the future - putting the digital infrastructure for proper research documentation, sample management, experiment documentation and lab logistics. The longer you postpone thinking about these issues the harder it will be to implement a solution for you lab.