Digital transformation in the Life Sciences

Credit: ShutterStock

Credit: ShutterStock

On February 27, Nicolas Argento from the IT team at EPFL's School of Life Sciences published a paper on EMBO Reports, describing the six-year successful deployment of electronic laboratory notebooks (ELN) and a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).

In the article, Nicolas Argento, outlines the efforts made by EPFL to implement a digital tool for tracking experimental data. EPFL’s School of Life Sciences, the Vice Presidency of Information Systems, and the Vice Presidency for Research have been collaborating on a project aimed to make an Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) and Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMSs) services available to researchers.

The paper presents the resources, methodology, and key success factors that led the new tool to be adopted by more than 500 users. It makes tracking bench experiments, identifying samples, storage, tracking, and managing Standard Operating Procedures fairer and easier. The new practices show a positive impact in terms of research quality and efficiency by increasing data availability, reusability, and reproducibility of experiments in the life sciences.

Argento goes on to explain that the success was due to choosing a highly customizable platform, which allowed labs to remain the architects of their particular information system. At the same time, he proposes the position of a data manager who would be responsible for adopting good data-management tools and practices, while protecting the creativity and freedom of the research process.

Beyond researchers, the digital transformation also impacted the central services of the School’s institutes. As illustrated by this project, overcoming challenges raised by modern life sciences research require collaboration between IT and labs. “Enabling good research data management is possible, within the appropriate environment,” says Gaël Anex, Head of the IT Unit at the School of Life Sciences. “The main challenges aren’t technological anymore, they are managerial.”

Some highlights from the article:

"The steering committee hired a project manager to coordinate the interests and requirements of the multiple stakeholders from distant fields, which made this project as complex as it was fascinating."

 “Laboratories were let on their own. This institutional initiative allowed us to create ELN/LIMS as a commodity for more than 50 laboratories mainly in the field of life Sciences”.

"The announcement of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) to make a data management plan mandatory for all grant applications from October 2017 created a peak of demand for our services in 2018."

"It still remains a PI's decision to use the platform."

"In the end, it is the daily practice of the scientists that will drive and sustain the digital transformation of the life sciences.


Argento N. Institutional ELN/LIMS deployment. EMBO Reports 27 February 2020. DOI: 10.15252/embr.201949862