Twitter Based Scientific Research
[Posted on: Thursday, November 10, 2016]
Rapid information exchange using Twitter is getting increasingly popular among scientists for sharing articles and data leading to interesting outcomes as highlighted in a case presented in The Scientist. Genomics researchers attending a conference in Cambridge, UK, found out through a tweet that researchers from the Beijing Genomics Institute had publicly just released an unassembled sequence of a deadly strain of E. Coli infecting people in parts of Germany. A scientist from University of Birmingham grabbed the sequence and uploaded to a server of his that assembles genomes. Twenty-four hours later the assembled sequence was release online and the conference attendees were told via tweets of its availability. “Over the remainder of the conference, during presentations and on coffee breaks in the lobby, researchers cracked open their personal genomic toolboxes to investigate the genome. They and other researchers from around the world shared and discussed their findings with each other in real time on Twitter.” Within 5 days, researchers had designed and released strain-specific diagnostic primer sequences, within a week two dozen reports were generated, and less than two months later researchers published the crowd-sourced genomic analysis. This extremely impressive and uplifting report is for an event 5 years ago. We have come a long way since then. According to a survey conducted last year, more than 50% of scientists become aware of important information via twitter, blogs, Facebook and Linkedin. And it is not limited to academic researchers. Social media plays an important role in all aspects of information exchanges. Patients use it to research new treatment options, find new clinical trials, know more about their physicians, and launch campaigns to get heard. Doctors use specialized online information exchanges to electronically send, receive, integrate, or search for patient information. In the regulated industry social media plays a critical role in marketing campaigns of all kinds. CDC uses social media to identify and target disease hot spots. It has been argued if information collected and analyzed this way could be acceptable to FDA in support of clinical trial and marketing approval applications. The short answer is yes but on a case by case basis depending on the overall quality and a balanced analysis of the data. FDA acknowledges that social media is an important source of data and accepts it for supporting safety and clinical experience information for regulated products. Unfortunately, mostly social media is a source for FDA to find violation of the law. Social media is still poorly used by the regulated industry for clinical trials and marketing approval application. Less than 10% of clinical trials use social media for recruitment. And very few companies use social media to collaborate like the genomic researchers in the case study above. Imagine if we see collaborations of the kind seen above in clinical trials.