Lab Certification - Summary

William Tivol tivol at
Thu Jul 6 18:25:14 EST 1995

U27111 at wrote:

Dear Kathy,

: Well, if you look at my previous posting on HeLa cell
: contamination... I tend to believe this is more of the reason why
: the 'War on Cancer' failed.  ???

	I'm sure there was some sloppy work which "helped" the war on cancer to
fail, but the other parts of the failure were misguided micromanagement and a
tendency to overstate the relationship between the proposer's research and a
cancer cure.  The first of these other problems leads to failure because no one
can predict accurately where the next breakthrough will come from.  A proposal
entitled "An enzyme system from an obscure microorganism and its relationship
to the characterization of the differences between normal and cancer cells"
would seem to be a candidate for the golden fleece award, but (since that en-
zyme system turned out to be the endonucleases) there really *was* a link to
curing cancer.  The tendency to go where the money is will lead proposers to
slant their grants toward a perceived pot of gold, but the main thrust of the
research will not necessarily enhance the goals of the micromanagers.  IMHO,
such directed basic research has a poor track record; of course, applied re-
search can be directed from the results of basic research.  The proper time for
a war on cancer is when the basic process is understood and that understanding
can reasonably be translated into cures.

: But I am sure you guys have your own organization or society which
: you have the option to be a part of and go to meetings?

	Yes, several.

: Lab accreditation would then rely upon the requirements of the
: individual certification fields... and do the site inspections as
: accordingly.

	I suppose this could be done without redundant inspections, but for
labs which are not conveniently pigeonholed, it could be a mess.

: This would probably mean that the overall organization which would
: be responsible for accrediting all research labs would have to be
: broken down into the different specialties?  I'm not sure... what
: do you think?

	Part of the problem is the specialties--especially since many discover-
ies are in the areas between specialties.  I think that if one is honest and
competant, one can learn the details of doing PCR (or any other technique).
How to certify honesty and competance is the main difficulty.

: I feel it would be dangerous for each organization to be
: responsibility for certifying techs AND accrediting the labs... we
: may run into the politics of competing labs inspecting each other?

: That's why I think we need the individual organizations to offer
: the certifications (examines and seminars) while one overall
: national organization do the individual lab accreditation (site
: inspections, making sure certified people work in these labs, etc.)

	State acreditation, like with universities, would be OK (and political-
ly more popular today).  What happens when Congress considers the accrediting
organization to be a good place for massive budget cuts?  The states are not
exempt from this, but since they already have responsibilities for universities
the cuts would be harder to make.

: And this overall organization needs to be separate from everybody
: else and only be concerned with maintaining those standards of labs
: despite current the lab's funding and not be involved the in-
: fighting or politics.

	Right!  Not easy to assure, however, and I think the inevitable poli-
tics would ruin the system.

: Again, I don't know of your specific area... but of what I have
: seen; how can we rely upon let's say PCR results from an immunology
: lab which just 'self-taught' themselves PCR techniques?  How valid
: would these PCR results be?

	Well, I learned amino acid sequencing while I was working in an elec-
trophysiology lab.  Of course, I went to the guy who owned the sequencer, but
he did not have the time to enter a true collaboration, just enough to see that
I was properly introduced to the process.

: >Even though the environmental expertese exists in the lab
: >collaborating with us, do we need to take a certification exam?

: The certification would be for the particular area of specialty...
: for you it would be EM.

	And biophysics, and particle physics, and biochemistry, etc.
:  For the collaborator, it would be
: environmental.  And you guys would then *need* to collaborate if
: you want to get a grant.  For individually, if your grants consist
: of EM and environmental - neither could get it if they are only
: certified in one or the other.  But together... you can get the
: grant.

	Only if we each have the time and interest to collaborate.  Actually,
this feature of the system might be very good; however, I can see "collabor-
ators" allowing their names to be listed, but not doing any actual work.

: Does this make sense?

	Yes, but see my reservation expressed above.

: If the collaborating lab needs EM work in their grant... they will
: have to fund you.

	Again, our situation is special--we are a NIH-funded biotechnological
resource.  Anyone can use the equipment for a valid project.

: And the Acadia Institute of Bar Harbor, Maine survey?  Where 43% of
: graduate students and 50% of faculty members have "direct
: knowledge" of some kind of misconduct in their laboratories.

: Don't you find this "a very large amount"?

	As another poster pointed out, many of the 43% may have seen only one
act of supposed misconduct, and that conduct may not have been mis.  I don't
know how the Acadia Institute did their survey.

	All in all, I think this is a good discussion.  After this kind of
hashing out the details, there may well be room for certification and accred-
itation.  The system must, however, be carefully thought out, or it will just
be another counterproductive bureaucracy.
				Bill Tivol

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