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Online Marketplace Helps Professors Outsource Their Lab Research

Jill Wykosky, a postdoctoral fellow at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, needed to make some antibodies, but she couldn’t do it all herself.

To help find a lab partner, she tried a new Web site called Science Exchange, posting an ad there saying she needed someone to make peptides to be used as “antigen for monoclonal antibody production.” Within a couple of days, she had bids from seven or eight companies.

She said the site was much faster than the alternative—asking around and e-mailing potential partners for rate quotes. “It’s a huge timesaver,” Ms. Wykosky said.

Ms. Wykosky is one of more than 3,000 researchers who have signed up for Science Exchange in the month since it opened.

Some of the early results have surprised the site’s co-creator, Elizabeth Iorns, an assistant professor at the University of Miami. For instance, about half the people who have signed up are from outside the United States.

The site functions like a marketplace, linking researchers who need to outsource parts of their work with people from institutions and companies who can provide that help. The providers bid, the researchers pick the bid that suits them best, and Science Exchange takes about a 5 percent cut (that percentage drops for bids worth more than $5,000).

The idea for the project came from Ms. Iorns’s own problems outsourcing research to other institutions. “The hardest part was paying” for such services, Ms. Iorns said, because universities often don’t have a protocol for how to pay for outsourced research.

This is not the first effort to use the Internet to link researchers to the facilities they need, but the “market aspect” of Science Exchange makes it different, said Edward G. Derrick, chief program director for the Center of Science Policy and Society Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The site’s model has raised questions for Michael R. Rossi, director of the Cancer Genomics Shared Resource at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute. Mr. Rossi thinks researchers may get into trouble with the National Institutes of Health and other institutions that support them if they pay a third party a fee to find outsourced work. “That really could become a big problem,” Mr. Rossi said.

Ms. Iorns, though, said she has been in contact with the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, and she said officials there have been enthusiastic about the idea. “This is something they’ve really wanted to set up for some time,” she said.

Mr. Rossi said he has used the Web site, answering another researcher’s call for help. “I’m not going to be on this every week,” he said, because the university usually has its own research to pay attention to. Here and there, though, his lab’s core facilities become available.

The site does have “great potential” to connect people with places in a way that hasn’t been done before, Mr. Rossi said, particularly for researchers at smaller institutions.

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