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Scientists crowdsource medical research ideas from patients

06.18.2013
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I wrote earlier this month about the Harvard Catalyst project, whereby ideas for scientific research into diabetes was crowdsourced via the Innocentive website.  The hope was very much that this approach would be the vanguard of a new method of sourcing research ideas.

That may now be the reality.  The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has asked researchers from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to scale up a prototype of just such a platform.  The site, known as WellSpringboard, is the winner of the PCORI Challenge, a $40,000 competition to find novel approaches to connecting researchers with interested patients.

The platform is a simple one.  A person has an idea for a research project.  They then record a video explaining their idea.  WellSpringboard then post this video to the site, give it a funding goal and then promote the idea via their social media channels.  Once enough people have funded the project, it is then opened up to researchers who apply to carry out the research.  These applications are reviewed by a combination of the general public and a board of scientists.  So it's a combination of crowdsourcing ideas and crowdfunding the research.

"We want to bring the public's voice into the world of health research, to allow them to ask for answers to questions that are most important to patients of all ages and the people who care for them," Matthew Davis from the University explains. "We also want to make it possible for researchers to join the virtual exchange of ideas that can attract broad public attention and investment. Researchers will be able to apply for the funding raised by the public, through a scientifically rigorous review process that involves scientists and non-scientists."

They hope that even if people don't wish to contribute financially, they could do so in other means.

"Even if someone couldn't contribute financially, they could still say that they are willing to take part in the study, if that's possible," explains Davis, who notes that researchers often struggle to find enough people to participate in their studies.