There is an imbalance in the global scientific community.
A surplus of lab equipment is accumulating in the basements, and warehouses of major institutions and corporations in the developed world, yet there is a deficit of high quality equipment needed to conduct research and study in developing countries. Let’s change this. Let’s put equipment in the hands of those who can use it to change the world.
Here Nina Dudnik introduces Seeding Labs, and tells us how you and your institution can empower talented scientists across the globe…
Potential for talent knows no cultural or geographic border, and brilliant scientists are living and working in all corners of the world. For those in developing countries, however, barriers to equipment and educational resources can often mean the difference between breakthrough and burnout. Frequently, those with a passion for science are forced to leave their home countries to overcome these barriers of infrastructure and capacity – a phenomenon known as brain drain. These visionary minds are not only uniquely equipped to tackle real issues facing their home countries, but also to impact the entire world with their research. Our mission at Seeding Labs is to create a more connected global scientific community by eliminating these barriers to research and education.
Stemming the tide of brain drain is one of the best ways we can ensure research in a variety of disciplines has the greatest impact where it’s needed most. It is estimated that 30-50% of scientists originally from developing countries now live and work in developed settings, and in 2004, the National Science Foundation found that of over 1,300 African doctoral students in the U.S., 70% planned to stay.
Our network of over 15,000 scientists in 22 countries around the world varies widely in subject area and experience. Through our programs that foster professional networks, and those like Instrumental Access, which provides access to reduced cost lab equipment, we’re able to empower scientists not only to pursue meaningful work in their home countries, but also to leverage the power of a global network of scientists. The result is a talented group of individuals who are not only connected to the challenges of the developing world, but who are also invested in solutions that are accessible in these settings.
What will this mean for the scientists?
Our core infrastructure and capacity-building program is called Instrumental Access. This program has a needs-driven approach that provides a framework for Seeding Labs to efficiently deliver equipment to scientists in our network to be used for their specific research and study. Though the acquisition of equipment, identification of need, and transfer of materials is a complex process, Instrumental Access operates on a simple principle: There is a surplus of high quality used lab equipment accumulating in the basements, and warehouses of major institutions and corporations in the developed world, and a deficit of high quality equipment needed to conduct research and study in developing countries.
We conduct a rigorous needs assessment process to identify partners for whom laboratory equipment has the potential to truly catalyse education and research and we gather extensive details on their existing capacity and their plans for future research and teaching. Through a collaborative effort with the selected university administrators and departmental faculty we match gently-used equipment and new consumables sourced from surplus supplies in the US. Since quality is so integral to the service we provide, our community members and volunteers check that all equipment is tested, decontaminated, and in proper working order before being shipped.
The impact of Instrumental Access alone on our network of scientists is enormous, and we view it as an investment that pays significant dividends for the global scientific community. The large-scale deployment of equipment (around $130,000 resale value per shipment on average) is a way to rapidly scale our partners’ infrastructure to meet their immediate needs. The new research and education activities they can conduct ultimately leads to new funding which can be re-invested into equipment, ensuring that in the future they will be up-to-date with technological advances. The network itself is also seen as a major benefit to our scientists, and facilitates connection across cultural and geographic borders for positive impact that far exceeds the scope of our programs alone.
The disconnect between scientists in developing and developed settings can be just as significant a barrier as access to equipment, and when that barrier is removed, the potential results of collaboration are limitless.
Why be an equipment donor?
Our equipment donors and institutional partners play an integral role in the services we provide to scientists within our network. Since equipment is constantly updating and improving, many institutions in developed settings struggle with an overflow of equipment that was highly-relevant yesterday, but has been replaced by something newer today. Staying current with innovations in technology and research equipment is absolutely essential for these institutions, but staying on the cutting-edge means maintaining a lot of storage space for equipment that’s no longer needed. Since equipment donation is often tax deductible and socially responsible, Seeding Labs can be an effective clearinghouse for these assets that could be better utilised elsewhere.
Equipment donation also gives institutions the opportunity to fulfill broader sustainability objectives. Instead of committing unneeded high quality used equipment to landfills and storage sites, institutions can leverage the benefits of a highly-tailored “recycling” program that puts equipment in the hands of those who can use it to change the world.
Spring cleaning is just one benefit of our programs for major corporations and universities, however. Many have taken a step further into global citizenship, and have established robust programs specifically designed to facilitate science around the world. These social responsibility initiatives are good PR, to be sure, but they also offer corporations unique access to emerging markets, new opportunities for employee engagement and a way to contribute globally that is perfectly in line with their missions.
Does it work?
It really does! A perfect example is the drug discovery field. Of a wide variety of research and study conducted by our scientists, one of the most significant can be found in their extensive research in this area. More so than perhaps any other area of focus, our scientists work in this area has significant impact when conducted in their home countries. Not only are these scientist’s more connected to the nuances of disease impacting their countries, but they are also motivated to seek out treatments that leverage regionally-accessible materials, specifically local plant life. With the help of Seeding Labs, our scientists can make significant breakthroughs from the front lines, with far greater result than if they were 4,000 miles away.
In the past decade, drug discovery has made tremendous strides to better global health. While the developed world has had a major hand in preventing the next outbreak or epidemic, sophisticated and/or expensive treatments are often out of reach to those in developing countries.
Seeding Labs is working to ensure that as many scientists in the developing world as possible have the proper tools to conduct their own research, and specifically that which is accessible to those who need it most.
In countries such as Uruguay, the Philippines, Kenya, and Jamaica, Seeding Labs scientists are working on plant-based research to make advancements towards treatments for serious diseases such as malaria, flatworm infections, cancer, diabetes, and wound healing.
In total, Seeding Labs work spans 13 countries, with the greatest area of focus in Africa and Latin America. Continued donations of equipment, educational resources, and funds will allow Seeding Labs to grow and expand its impact, both geographically and more generally across the global scientific community.
Our goal for the immediate future is to triple our impact, increasing our global scientific network to 45,000 scientists worldwide. To accomplish this goal, we will continue the expansion of Instrumental Access as well as the access to professional networks, educational opportunities, and collaborations at the institutional level.
We welcome and encourage the involvement of new supporters in every facet of our organisation. From institutional partners that can donate equipment and resources, to scientists pursuing life-changing research, to volunteers and financial donors, our goals are ultimately reached when these groups come together in support of our shared mission.
The imbalance of scientific capacity and infrastructure around the world is significant, but by collaborating on impactful solutions, we can work to tip the scales back to a more even state. Investing in global science has material benefits for individuals and institutions around the world, and can result in truly life-changing research.
It’s easy to get involved:
- If you or your company, university or institution are interested in learning more about donating equipment contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you are interested in sponsoring a shipment contact: email@example.com
- To find out how you can give of your time to support the organisation: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you are a scientist interested in one of our programs, you can also learn more about our application process at www.seedinglabs.org
Dr. Nina Dudnik is a molecular biologist and the founder and CEO of Seeding Labs.