Illustration of a remote clinical lab.
With access to a cloud lab, researchers can log into a single digital interface from anywhere in the world.

The Cloud is Shifting the R&D Paradigm to Remote Labs

Cloud labs are enabling remote work for researchers

Toby Blackburn, BS, MBA

Toby Blackburn serves as the head of business development and strategy at Emerald Cloud Lab (ECL), a web-based platform for remotely conducting and managing data surrounding wet lab experiments. He...

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Published:Nov 09, 2022
|3 min read
Photo portrait of Toby Blackburn, BS, MBA
Toby Blackburn serves as the head of business development and strategy at Emerald Cloud Lab (ECL), a web-based platform for remotely conducting and managing data surrounding wet lab experiments. He holds an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Busin

During the last decade, profound technological advancements have driven significant innovations in the life sciences industry. New therapies, drugs, and treatments are being developed and brought to market at an increasingly accelerated rate.

All these scientific breakthroughs start in the laboratory. Yet, day-to-day bench work causes a bottleneck: traditional methods of carrying out experiments cannot keep up with the demand for actionable data. 

Instead of designing new experiments and analyzing results, researchers spend the majority of their time at the lab bench preparing consumables, reagents, and buffers, loading samples, performing experiments, transferring data, and maintaining or fixing instruments. Consequently, from biopharmaceutical companies to academic institutions, scientific organizations are seeking new ways to reliably design and carry out experiments from the cloud in a remote lab facility.

With access to a cloud lab, researchers can log into a single digital interface from anywhere in the world and simultaneously run multiple experiments 24/7. Once they send their samples to the cloud lab, they then design and submit their protocols. Using semi-automated technology, the remote lab executes the experiment exactly as  designed  and delivers the results back through the same digital interface. 

With cloud labs, remote work is now a reality across industry and academia—and the benefits speak for themselves:

The benefits of performing research with a cloud lab

  1. Reduced capital costs: Building and running a research facility can be expensive, especially for start-ups. The waitlists for sourcing a specific lab instrument can be long, and procuring and setting up the instrument can delay experiments even further. It also costs money to hire qualified lab personnel to run the facility. Cloud labs reduce this drain on a company’s budget.
  2. Improving productivity: Proof-of-concept analyses have shown that companies are able to run five to eight times more experiments in a cloud lab compared to traditional methods.
  3. Built-In reproducibility: With experimental protocols developed in a common user interface where all data is automatically tracked and recorded, researchers can reproduce experiments with the push of a button, even if they partner with organizations in different locations.

Global impact of remote labs

During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, many office workers began working from home, and this new way of conducting business has become the norm in many industries. However, this was often not the case for researchers, who had no choice but to perform their experiments at the bench. 

That all changed for researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) when they gained access to a cloud lab. The University granted its faculty and students access to a cloud lab to continue their scientific research and education from home. The success of this initiative led CMU to build the first-ever academic cloud lab on their campus, which will enable students and faculty from across the globe to run experiments using the platform. While not designed to allow scientists to work from home during a pandemic, the cloud lab concept fills current needs and will likely continue to enable work-from-home policies in the future.  

Moving forward 

Where researchers once had to write out t-tests by hand and physically transfer digital information from one computer to another, they now have statistical software to complete these analyses and cloud storage has made physical media obsolete. One day, cloud labs may make physical laboratories obsolete too.