Challenges in cell biology:
The reproducibility crisis

The dangers of irreproducibility are becoming increasingly well-recognized, and there has been a recent and growing concern surrounding the validity of certain studies and practices as a result.
Baker, M. 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility. Nature 533, 452–454 (2016).

A key challenge for researchers hoping to address this “reproducibility crisis” is that there is no one cause of irreproducibility. Non-standardized methods and protocols, differing techniques and instrumentation used, a lack of standardized quality control, and complex workflows, along with laborious tasks prone to human error, are all critical factors influencing reproducibility.

In the resource below, we outline the top three challenges that cell biology labs currently face, provide top tips from expert cell biologists around the world, and explore the one-stop solution designed to mitigate the risk of irreproducibility.

Challenge 1: Complex analytical workflows, without dedicated experts or core labs

A key challenge for those managing a lab or workflow is the varying levels of expertise and existing gaps in training for certain techniques or technologies.

The complex analysis tools that are required to provide relevant and robust insights often need expert knowledge to not only operate but also to analyze the subsequent data. For some labs, it can be a challenge to keep up with the expertise needed to optimize the use of these analytical tools.

To address the challenges associated with missing or novice know-how, check out these top tips from cell biology experts:

  • Standardize and streamline your processes and analysis techniques, as much as possible, and establish clear standard operating procedures.
  • Collaborate and openly share all relevant knowledge – within and across relevant labs - and ensure you have comprehensive documentation of your experimental parameters.
  • Utilize powerful, but less complex instrumentation, that require less training.

See the below resources for further assistance on how you can best address varying levels of expertise.

Challenge 2: Combining multiple methods with high variability

Issues with reproducibility often arise when labs try to combine various approaches - whether to consolidate data, implement a new line of investigation, or in preparation of collaboration with other labs.

The use of multiple different techniques and instrumentation can mean that the analysis of cells takes place at different time points and under different conditions –for example, analyzing cell viability on a microplate reader, counting cells under a microscope, and quantifying signals with a flow cytometer. This variation in approaches can lead to inconsistent data if not appropriately controlled.

To help consolidate your methodology and reduce the risk of data inconsistency, adhere to the following top tips:

  • Focus on good experimental and laboratory practice, with clear communication of this within your lab.
  • Standardize and optimize all processes as much as possible, including time and inventory planning.
  • Multiplex your assays to get the most information out of one sample in one go.

For more guidance on how to ensure standardized, optimized, and well-planned workflows and achieve robust experimental practices in your cell biology research, take a look at the free resources below.

Challenge 3: Laborious experimental practices

A key pain point for laboratories around the world is the laborious and manual nature of certain tasks within a workflow.

The need to measure multiple different cell parameters, at different time points, and under different conditions, increases the risk of variability in results. As a result, scientists often try to overcome this by conducting live-cell analysis, which involves taking measurements at different time points from the same cells under the same conditions. However, this is a very laborious approach, often requiring lab attendances over weekends or at night.

To overcome this laborious approach, cell biology experts recommend the following:

  • Plan your experiments thoroughly and share this workload appropriately with your colleagues.
  • Optimize your workflows to reduce the number of analytical techniques and instruments used.
  • Above all else, automate your processes whenever possible.

Explore the resources below to find out more about how automation can relieve your live-cell imaging workload.

The one-stop solution for your cell biology needs

The Spark and Spark Cyto platforms from Tecan are designed for the seamless integration and combination of various functions, as outlined in the figure below. Hover over the features to find out more.

Cell incubation &
live-cell analysis​​
Temperature and gas control, and evaporation protection

Smart automation​
Integrated plate stacker extension, automated lid lifting, and seamless integration in robotic solutions simplify and automate experiments​

Low-volume DNA/RNA
quantification​
Using just 2ul sample detecting down to 1 ng/ul

UV/vis spectroscopy​
Plate and cuvette-based spectroscopy offering ultra-fast absorbance scans and single wavelength assays (ELISA)

Imaging & microscopy​
(Spark Cyto only) integrated automated brightfield and multichannel fluorescence microscopy

Benchtop single-cell cytometry​
(Spark Cyto only) For cell proliferation, apoptosis, cytotoxicity, and many more studies

Fluorescence & luminescence assays
Enabling high-throughput assays such as fluorescence polarization (FP), TR-FRET, and ALPHA screening

Benchtop cell counting​
(Spark only) Accurate cell count and viability assessment for up to eight samples/run in less than 30 seconds/sample

Please note that the Spark and Spark Cyto are for research use only

The Spark and Spark Cyto platforms from Tecan are designed for the seamless integration and combination of various functions, including:

Please note that the Spark and Spark Cyto are for research use only

Discover the right technology for all your cell biology needs

Spark® Cyto
“Utterly recommended! Great equipment! I use it every week for 96-well plate-based assays.”
​​Guido Falduto, National Institutes of Health​​
Application area: Proliferation, ELISA
Learn more

*The advice highlighted in this resource is based on the results of a survey conducted by SelectScience® in partnership with Tecan®.

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