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Research Integrity

Effort to reproduce Brazilian research experiments set to begin

Targeted assays include amplifying mRNA and assessing cell viability

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
April 3, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 14

 

A project aiming to reproduce dozens of biochemistry experiments originally conducted in Brazil is set to commence this month.

The project, called the Brazilian Reproducibility Initiative, plans to replicate between 60 and 100 experiments. The initiative already has more than 60 Brazilian labs on board, with each lab slated to reproduce three to six experiments each.

The effort will initially focus on three laboratory methods: reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction, which is used to amplify messenger RNA; the MTT assay, a colorimetric assay used to assess cell viability; and the “elevated plus” maze, a behavioral assay used to measure anxiety in rodents. Depending on funding, the researchers may also consider repeating western blotting and immunohistochemistry experiments. The initiative is funded by the Serrapilheira Institute, a private nonprofit foundation established in 2016.

Unlike previous reproducibility efforts elsewhere, the researchers carrying out the replication experiments in Brazil won’t know which studies the protocols originate from until the end of the process, says Olavo Amaral, a medical biochemist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who is leading the project.

To weed out biases, “blinding is always healthy,” Amaral tells C&EN. He notes, however, that the scientists charged with repeating experiments may figure out the sources. The Brazilian academic community is small, and replicators may have already read the original studies or be able to find them with a little sleuthing, he says.

In the last few years, federal funds available to researchers in Brazil have been slashed substantially. “It’s a tough time for science in Brazil,” Amaral notes. He believes that investing money in checking the credibility of research is important because it can inform funding policies.

“I have a moral obligation to do this,” he adds. “Brazil has funded my research for a long time and this is an important project to the country.”

Amaral and colleagues think the project’s first results will be announced in 2021.

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