Signals Blog

by Tania Bubela

Increasingly, commercialization is a key requirement for securing project funding and support for scientific research. The field of stem cell research is no exception. But does this emphasis on commercialization, which necessarily involves issues of ownership and secrecy, come at the expense of another largely-encouraged element of scientific research, namely academic collaboration? This is a question we posed in a recent study, the findings of which were published on July 2 in Cell Stem Cell.

Using bibliometrics and network analysis to visualize academic collaboration patterns, we examined the impact of patenting behavior and involvement in startup companies on the number of co-authors of individual principal investigators (PIs) within Canada’s Stem Cell Network (SCN). We found that PIs involved in startup companies had about five times as many patents as those not involved. There was a negative relationship between the number of patents garnered and the degree of academic collaboration of SCN PIs. In other words, scientists with the lion’s share of patents typically had fewer academic co-authors and were less connected within the overall co-authorship network for stem cell research.

Above this key conclusion, our research showed some very positive facts about SCN. For one thing, most science researchers at SCN exhibited a high degree of collaboration (up to an impressive 828 co-authors in one case), within Canada and with international scientists—and many developed strong international profiles as a result. This is most evident in the fact that 14 of the 100 most highly-cited researchers in our sample of over 160,000 scientific publications related to the field of stem cell research were SCN PIs.

But what does our finding about the apparent competition between commercialization on the one hand, and collaboration on the other mean? Overall, it suggests that public funding to organizations such as SCN needs to balance incentives for patentable research with those offered for collaborative research. This is most important in the field of stem cell research where the development of marketable products and therapies is highly dependent on innovative, exciting multi-disciplinary, collaborative, international and largely academic research.

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Stem Cell Network