Online dating for scientists? Could boost medical research happy endings

by Magda Mis | @magdalenamis1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 4 July 2013 11:26 GMT

Dr Celine Nobah (R) of the Association of Women Researchers in the Ivory Coast stands beside a canoe as she conducts research to ensure that fish in the lagoon Ebrie are safe to eat, in Nbadon, Abidjan, on March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

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If you have ever wandered off to one of the online dating websites, you probably haven’t seen anything that would sound as unusual as this:

“A nonprofit biotech advancing the development of tuberculosis vaccines would be interested to hear from clinical research sites interested in working with us on future studies.”

However, if you are a researcher working in one of the low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and you need data that would significantly improve your studies and - potentially - speed up eradication of the disease, this is exactly what you would post on a dating-like website for scientists.

Instead of spending hours or days searching the internet for other researchers working on similar projects, you log in to the website, enter your details and simply connect with colleagues around the world working on similar projects.

A new website is supposed to do exactly that - connect researchers and health professionals from all over the world and enable them to share data, but unlike many online dating websites, it would do it for free.

The new project from The Global Health Network, being launched today, will allow scientists working in areas such as disease outbreaks and malaria, to find others working on similar projects and exchange methods and knowledge.

Enabling such collaboration is especially important in developing countries where life-saving data is needed most and where researchers often find it difficult to make promote their studies overseas.

Although scientists do not usually share methods they use in their research, they are willing to do so knowing that they will find solutions faster by working together and sharing information.

“This represents a transformational change in disease research. For example, it means that when an outbreak occurs - anywhere in the world - scientists on the ground can get immediate access to the expertise that they need and to the research methods that will allow them to create effective clinical studies - and that will save lives,” said Dr Trudie Lang, director of the Global Health Network.

Site-Finder is built on principles similar to those of online dating websites and uses techniques found in social media to connect users and help them identify others with similar interests.

The Global Health Network already has about 50,000 users worldwide and was specifically designed to increase research capacity in low-income countries.

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