Moshe Pritsker, CEO and co-founder of the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), was pursuing a PhD at Princeton University when he had a light bulb moment that would change the course of his career.
"I saw that everyone working in labs has the same problem: They have to learn experiments done by others to integrate new technologies into their work," Pritsker explained. "So they read a scientific article from a journal and try to reproduce what they've read at their laboratory bench. Once, twice, three times and it doesn't work. Typically they repeat it nine or 10 times, and then they have no choice. They have to find someone who has done this experiment and who knows the techniques, and this usually means they have travel to learn all the small details that are often left out in written descriptions but exist in real life in the lab."
Pritsker realized that lab researchers were universally faced with hurdles to reproduce important experiments, further frustrated by a lack of time and/or funding to travel in order to learn necessary techniques from qualified experts if, indeed, those experts had the time and willingness to teach.
"I saw people all around me trying, trying, trying -- and projects stuck in the losses, wasted resources and lost money of institutions," Pritsker told ADVANCE. "I asked myself, 'What is the solution to this problem?'" The answer, said Pritsker, was video.
In 2007, after receiving his doctorate, Pritsker left the research lab and turned to publishing. He founded his groundbreaking JoVE by beginning the process of building a library of filmed experiments to accompany traditional text in his peer-reviewed journal.
"People would say, 'A video journal? I never heard of such a thing,' and in the next breath they would say, 'Yes, this makes sense! Why didn't we do this before?'" recalled Pritsker.
At the beginning of his effort, Pritsker naively believed that scientists could film their own experiments and send the video and text to him.
"We quickly found out it is not that easy," he said, explaining that every video needs to be shot at a multitude of camera angles. "We need to show the lab set-up, the position of the lab scientists, their hands, the materials, what is seen on the slide, etc." Today, Pritsker contracts with professional filmmakers to shoot videos in 15 countries around the world. The resulting films are then sent back to JoVE headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., where they are edited and published -- at the dizzying rate of about 70 per month. The full library currently houses about 3,000 titles, across nine subcategories, all of which are searchable via MedLine and PubMed, as well as on the JoVE website.
Jeanette Moore, MS, a lab research professional, is enthusiastic about this video resource for laboratories, and has put it to the test at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Moore was conducting research on Arctic ground squirrels to try to understand some of their unique physiological adaptations during hibernation. (During hibernation these squirrels show no discernible brain activity, take a mere single shallow breath per minute, yet awaken without any brain damage at all. The lab was examining specific mechanisms at the cellular or tissue level. The hope was to eventually understand why the squirrels did not sustain brain damage, as would a human.)
"To study the squirrels, we needed to collect brain tissues," said Moore. "One of the ways to freeze the proteins in their active state is to perfuse the animal." She explained that this requires inserting a needle into the animal's heart, washing the blood through with saline then introducing a preservative to "freeze" the proteins in the state they are in during that particular point in time - such as entry into hibernation, arousal from hibernation, etc.
"We needed to learn how to perfuse," said Moore. "I had seen it done once, had written down the protocols, but there were still specific details I just didn't know. I needed to see someone do this."
Moore said that while training through written instructions might have been possible, it would have taken a great deal of time, labor, travel --- which from Alaska is no small matter -- and animal resources. "We didn't want to kill a hundred animals just to get a protocol down; we wanted to save as many animals' lives as possible."
The researchers at the lab were, indeed, able to learn to perfuse through video training available via JoVE. Moore said the savings in time was literally ". hundreds of hours -- months. We also needed to learn how to make brain slices. We could have stumbled along, but instead we really learned the proper protocols and how to make them work. We realized that if we wanted our data and our research to be compatible with other cutting-edge research, we'd have to use consistent practices to get reproducible work."
Moore said that she has observed that lab scientists are often timid about certain techniques because they may lack expertise in a given area. "We hesitate to even try. But video tools offer the bridge to the requisite knowledge. It brings the experts to you -- and allows them to share their own little tricks -- and it takes away that 'I don't know how to do this' dilemma. It gives us a place to start."
There seems to be a similar appetite for video training throughout the global lab world. Today, about 600 leading research and medical institutions subscribe to JoVE, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT as well as many leading institutions in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, etc. "We reach subscribers in every country where major biomedical research is conducted," Pritsker said. And they are not shy about asking him to publish videos on specific topics. "They ask for specific procedures on an everyday basis," he said.
This year JoVE is branching out with yet a new service, a new series of educational videos for basic lab procedures, keeping Pritsker's brainchild fertile for even more growth.
Find on of the JoVE videos, "Cell-Based Assay Protocol", by clicking here.
Valerie Neff Newitt is on staff at ADVANCE.