Join the Hub of Biomedical Citizen Science Collaboration with CitSciBio

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Back in 2012 Dr. Jennifer Couch and her colleagues at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) formed a working group to explore the relationship between citizen science and biomedical research. At the inaugural workshop, they discussed how widely dispersed the biomedical citizen science community was — a clear departure from many other citizen science communities, and a potential barrier to research collaborations. Couch approached Katrina Theisz, a program analyst at NIH, and together they mapped out the international community.

They thought about the many members of this community:  patients with rare diseases, medical professionals, researchers, and hobbyists and the variety of  perspectives they held. While this diversity was a strength of the community, it also made collaboration difficult:  members used a number of different platforms, such as the National Cancer Informatics Program (NCIP) Hub , RareConnect and The DIYbiosphere, to share ideas.

To be sure, all of these platforms are important, but if the biomedical citizen science community had a central location where they could share project tools, gather project participants, and educate the greater public, Couch and Theisz believed, they could pool their power.

So they decided to unite the community by placing all the tools biomedical citizen scientists were using, ranging from forums to scientific protocols, in a single location, or “hub.” In this hub, people wouldn’t be divided by their connection to the movement. They could be “community-based participatory researchers”, “DIY scientists”, “citizen scientists” or even “biohackers”, all in one space.

Couch and Theisz built on the NCIP Hub collaboration platform mentioned above. This platform was developed for cancer data researchers, allowing them to easily share documents, tools, and event information. Ultimately their project became the Biomedical Citizen Science Hub, or CitSciBio. Similar to the NCIP hub, Theisz said she wanted the hub to be “an all- in-one collaboration platform, combining tools like Slack, Dropbox and Trello and integrating them with different available resources”.  In fact, if you have an account with SciStarter, you can use this account to personalize your use of the Biomedical Citizen Science Hub.

One active user, Dr. Ginger Tseung of the Scripps Research Institute, leads Mark2Cure, a project that allows citizen scientists to create concept maps that uncover clues about the relationships between scientific articles. Tseung, along with some of the Mark2Curators, has been using the CitSciBio hub to collaborate on a teacher’s toolkit. This toolkit will explain how Mark2Cure can be used as an educational instrument when teaching about bioscience in the classroom.

Currently their working group is private, but Tseung says they “expect to open up the group and invite project leaders to join our effort so that we can apply what we learn in the process (and the framework that we build) to extend the teaching toolkits beyond Mark2Cure, to biomedical citizen science projects in general.” In the future, project leaders like Tseung will have a foundation to build their tools on, making citizen science even more accessible.

Theisz finds the online citizen science community to be open and embracing. She remembers attending a citizen science event and recognizing the name of another attendee, Dr. Nicole Garneau who leads the Genetics of Taste Lab at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Theisz was stumped as to how they might know each other until Garneau excitedly approached her, explaining that they had conversed about citizen science on twitter as @yopearlthescigirl and @citscibio. She hopes that the CitSciBio hub can inspire similar connections that are initially sparked in the virtual space, eventually transcending it.

Today CitSciBio has about ten active groups and over 300 members. Some of the projects on the hub are just starting out, and the hub has resources specifically made for laying down the foundation of these ideas. Other projects, like Mark2Cure, have their own platform external to the CitSciBio hub, but rely on CitSciBio for collaborative tools. Just like Couch and Theisz imagined, the hub is growing into a place where all types of biomedical citizen scientists can come together as one.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

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About the Author

Nina Friedman

Nina Friedman

Nina Friedman researches neuroscience and data visualization with the Moore Lab at Brown University. Find her on twitter @ngfriedman138