Researchers are drowning in paperwork. We often spend more time filling in paperwork than we do in the lab doing actual research. Crazy right? If you’re a researcher you’ve no doubt experienced the frustration of the red tape involved in receiving or distributing materials to your collaborators.
Pubished in top Biology journal PLOS Biology, together with our colleagues from the Centre for Law and Genetics at the University of Tasmania we investigated ways we can minimise delay in research that requires access to materials on reasonable terms. You can download the paper here.
What paperwork is required and why is it important?
Material transfer agreements (MTA’s) are the approval documents required to transfer material in a research setting. They provide the chain of custody – recording the origin of materials, restrictions, rights and obligations imposed of those receiving the samples for use. Most of the transactions in research are straightforward and have limited commercial value or legal implications, where many of these clauses would not be relevant. There certainly are situations where complexity is needed such as transfer of sovereign genetic resources and tissue form indigenous peoples, which are explored in the publication. The literature has shown that negotiating complicated terms for simple projects can delay the sharing of material and slow the research down all together.
The current situation
The paperwork required for contemporary research has drastically increased. Notwithstanding the necessary reporting schedules to funding agencies, ethics committees and institutional boards. In our own experiences of a genomic study we negotiated 60+ separate agreements to commence recruitment at 15 sites in Australia. It equaled to over 1500 pages to review and hundreds of hours of complex negotiations between contracts departments of institutions involved. Before we recruited a single patient.
The way we do research in cancer is changing
The way we transfer and access samples has changed. We work in an open source, patient driven, common interest global environment. Our goals are not static and binary- more commonly we are requesting and utilising new types of biospecimens in our research projects: samples that are collected at distinct time points and in a pre-specified context of a patient’s treatment. We need to challenge unreasonable aversion within our institutions to ensure we capitalize on our research leading to new treatments and better outcomes for cancer patients.