Can 3D innovation help solve the reproducibility crisis?

Can 3D innovation help solve the reproducibility crisis?

Post by: George Thaw, CEO at Fuel3D

The ‘reproducibility crisis’ in the life sciences continues to make headlines. Research shows that more than 50% of published studies cannot be reproduced[1], while some experts believe the number could be significantly higher. In a recent Nature survey[2], 86% of respondents acknowledged a crisis exists in their scientific field.

Many factors contribute to irreproducible research from poor experimental practices to the pressure to publish. Growing concern about reproducibility and an overwhelming desire for consistent, repeatable science has led labs to sharpen their focus on the documentation and standardisation of experimental methods and to explore debiasing techniques and ways to remove human error to make research more reliable.

Using digital technology to create the lab of the future has a fundamental role to play in solving the reproducibility crisis and will ultimately fuel more scientific breakthroughs and more effective drug development. And nowhere is this more important than in cancer research.

The desire for more consistent data has been a key driver in bringing BioVolume® to market which we’ve developed in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry. It was conceived to enable faster, smarter and more confident decisions to be made in the identification and development of new cancer therapeutics.

Replacing the use of handheld manual callipers, this ground-breaking 3D subcutaneous tumour measurement system rapidly and accurately captures and reconstruct 3D tumour surface changes, enabling the analysis of texture, colour, shape and volume. It improves the reproducibility of data and brings tumour measurement and analysis into the 21st century by:

1. Removing human bias

The smallest inaccuracy and variable can have a major impact on the outcome of a result, especially for pre-clinical studies with data sets captured on multiple days across multiple sites. Consistent and accurate data collection is essential.

BioVolume removes operator and inter-operator bias when measuring subcutaneous tumours to ensure a level of consistency from individual to individual and site to site that is not possible with callipers.

Different technicians measure the lines and dimensions of tumours differently when using callipers so it is essential that the same person undertakes every measurement throughout the course of a study to ensure consistency in measurement. This poses problems if the scientist or technician needs to take time off for holiday or due to illness. Studies have shown that inter-operator variability can be as high as 25% when using callipers[3]. And even when the same technician takes a single measurement there can be a variance in the measurement taken with errors as high as 27% when repeated measurements of small tumours are taken[4].

2. Improving the reliability of data

Greater precision means more reliable data – particularly for irregular shaped tumours which are difficult to measure accurately with callipers – giving laboratory managers and technicians greater confidence in the results of the drug therapy trials they are undertaking. Given that callipers tend to over measure, organisations may be imposing unnecessary early endpoints on their studies and greater consistency of data could help produce more accurate trial endpoints than ever before.

3. Better traceability

Traceability is becoming ever more important in the life sciences with stricter regulatory and compliance requirements. With BioVolume, standardised scanned tumour images can be recorded and saved with a time and date stamp, providing full transparency and traceability for every study, and greater confidence in the audit trail for pharmaceutical companies using their own labs or outsourcing studies to CROs. 3D models make it possible to revisit any data point in a trial while providing compliance evidence for every measurement. Callipers just produce a number in a spreadsheet and there is no opportunity to reconfirm and further analyse the data if required.

A digital approach to recording, measuring and monitoring subcutaneous tumours not only tackles reproducibility head-on, it could also lead to greater collaboration in the future between different labs as it introduces more consistent standards and ultimately greater confidence in the results. At the moment it is difficult for labs to collaborate due to the subjectivity and inconsistency in measuring tumours and because different formula are typically being used.


So what does this innovation mean for the lab of the future and for science? BioVolume is a step forward for cancer research because it improves the transparency and veracity in the collection and storage of trial data. Ultimately it could lead to the more effective management of trials, resources being maximised due to greater confidence in data leading to fewer repeat trials being required, and most importantly it could improve the time to market for vital new cancer drugs as a result of reduction in the length of preclinical trials. Digital transformation has many benefits in the quest for consistent, reproducible data and in fuelling science.


[1]: PLOS Biology, The Economics of Reproducibility in Preclinical Research
[2]: Nature:″>″>
[3]: Delgado San Martin JA, Worthington P, Yates JW. 2015. Non-invasive 3D time-of-flight imaging technique for tumour volume assessment in subcutaneous models. Lab Animals 49(2):168-71
[4]: Klette R, Schluns K, Koschan A. 1998. Computer vision, three dimensional data from images. New York: Springer


Fuel3D will be showcasing its innovative BioVolume solution at the AALAS (American Association for Laboratory Animal Science) National Meeting, 28 October – 1 November 2018 in Baltimore, US and will be presenting on the benefits of using 3D measurement as part of the main conference programme. See the details of the talk and our other Autumn BioVolume events in this blog post.

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