Antibodies for test tubes: Rheaply helps scientists share their resources

by Michael Hines
October 10, 2017

One of the biggest problems scientists face is a lack of resources. There’s just not enough grant money to go around, and lab equipment and supplies don’t come cheap.

Rheaply, a Chicago-based startup, wants to help scientists stretch their resources further.

“The cost of research continues to go up,” said Rheaply co-founder Garry Cooper. “That’s why we’re building a platform where scientists can reapply their excess resources and share their knowledge.”

Cooper has a PhD in neuroscience from Northwestern University and has been conducting research for 14 years. The idea for Rheaply came to him in the lab.

“We were cleaning out a freezer, throwing things into bags for hazardous waste and non-hazardous waste, and one thing the lab manager threw away was a packet of antibodies,” Cooper said. “These chemicals are expensive and last for 25 years. I saw no reason to throw them away.”

Cooper took the non-hazardous waste bag to a neighboring lab and asked the scientists there if they wanted anything. One person took a few items and asked if there was anything Cooper wanted in return.

Rheaply aims to digitally recreate this experience. Scientists on the platform list excess supplies they’d like to donate or request things they need. Typically, these are items that would be thrown away, like antibodies or plastic pipettes, although sometimes small machines like air compressors make it onto the platform.

Scientists can also use Rheaply to request help with experiments. Cooper said typical requests include asking for someone with Python skills to sift through data. To facilitate quicker collaboration, matches are only made between scientists at the same university or company.

Users list their areas of expertise and technical skills when filling out their profiles. But Rheaply can also match users with people who aren't on the platform.

“We’ve created what we call a suggestion algorithm,” Cooper said. “It mines data from scientific research published within the last three years. If someone requests Python help at Northwestern and a match can’t be made between users, our algorithm finds someone in a study who matches that description and sends their information to the Rheaply user.”

Rheaply launched in May and is currently used by scientists at Northwestern, Princeton and an unnamed “major tech company.” Organizations pay a subscription fee for the service.

The team is working to get more Chicago-based schools and organizations on the platform and is also close to closing a deal with the National Institutes of Health.

Although users can currently only interact with other people within their organizations, Cooper said this will change once more clients come aboard. The goal is to let scientists sell their unwanted supplies to researchers across the country, creating a secondary market for discounted materials.

The Rheaply team is made up of three full-time employees and is based in Bucktown.


Image via Shutterstock.

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