May 2011

Providing a way to support a scientific will

 

From pipettes to PCR machines, Seeding Labs donates scientific supplies to resource-poor institutes in developing nations. 

 


As highlighted by the profiles of three researchers in this issue – who represent just a small percentage of the nearly 300 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members who work in developing nations – scientific curiosity can be found in every corner of the world. On the other hand, the resources necessary for the science to reach its potential typically are not so well distributed.

But thanks to the efforts of a nonprofit group known as Seeding Labs, scientists in developing nations are receiving the equipment they need to let their talent truly shine.

Seeding Labs began in 2002 through the efforts of a small but dedicated group of graduate students at Harvard University who took notice of the outdated but still functional lab equipment found on the crowded shelves and in the cabinets and hallways of almost every major university research lab. Many of these students had spent time in labs in Africa, Asia and Latin America and realized how valuable these unwanted items could be in the right hands. So they worked together with their departments and shipped out a few small boxes to some colleagues in Paraguay and Guatemala.

The group didn’t originally plan on turning its initial donation into a full-blown enterprise, but as word spread around the Harvard campus, other students and faculty members took up the cause and made even more extraneous equipment available to scientists in the developing world. A movement was born.

Since then, not too much has changed; Seeding Labs, founded and headed by former microbiology student Nina Dudnik, remains a small but dedicated organization operating with a minimal volunteer staff and a shoestring budget. Although their means are modest, their impact has been anything but.

So far, the group has provided more than $600,000 of laboratory equipment and supplies to researchers in 14 countries worldwide, which has helped those labs train more than 250 students and staff and educate thousands more.

And the investments have been paying off; nearly across the board, recipient scientists have been reporting increased staff recruitment, productivity and publications. All of this plays a part in improving future funding opportunities and fostering more growth, eventually building a self-sufficient research community.

 

To further this goal of an international community, Seeding Labs recently has begun implementing an exchange of intellect in addition to the exchange of equipment. With support from the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, they recently launched a summer fellowship program to bring talented junior faculty from Africa to the United States to train at NIBR labs in Cambridge. Likewise, with support from the genetics department at Harvard Medical School, Seeding Labs just established an ambassador program that gives U.S. graduate students and postdoctoral fellows a chance to travel to Kenya and share their knowledge and skills with their African counterparts.

Seeding Labs also has plans to make the research of the scientists receiving donated supplies available on its website. This would mitigate some of the publication barriers that scientists in developing nations face while also creating a forum to encourage collaboration.

Seeding Labs has been making tremendous progress in gaining national awareness, and they have a solid network of universities, research institutes and biotech companies who have offered up surplus supplies. There’s always room for growth, however, and every bit of equipment can make a difference. So if you happen to have an instrument that’s currently being used as a dust collector or fancy paperweight, you might consider passing it along to someone who can use it to make a difference.

Interested in learning more about Seeding Labs or possibly donating some equipment, money or your time? Visit www.seedinglabs.org.

Nick ZagorskiNick Zagorski (nicozags@gmail.com) is a freelance science writer.
 


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