Vignette 2: Who Goes First?

The Beginning…

          Ryan is an EBICS trainee in the Welsh Lab at UIUC. He has developed a novel method of co-differentiating muscle cells, neurons, and endothelial cells from embryoid bodies (EBs). Ryan is very excited about this fundamental advance in technology, and can’t wait to share this with other EBICS researchers at the annual retreat. At the retreat, Ryan and Prof. Welsh have lunch with Prof. Padua and Sarah, EBICS researchers from MIT who are trying to build motile Bio-Bots from EBs. After a scintillating conversation, Prof. Welsh invites Sarah out to UIUC to learn Ryan’s protocol. She has never worked with EBs before, so she’s excited to learn from an expert.

The Research Exchange…

During the exchange, Sarah learns Ryan’s protocol – not just the bare bones, but the little tips and tricks he’s picked up along the way that help him repeatedly attain great results. After she goes back to her lab, she starts building Blob-Bots: Bio-Bots that “evolve” from EBs into motile machines controlled by neurons, powered by muscle, and supplied by vascular networks. She can’t wait to publish her results, and sends an email to her advisor, cc’ing Ryan and Prof. Welsh.

The Ethical Conundrum…

Ryan isn’t ready to publish his results yet! He wants to wait to publish until he can show growth of EBs into larger hierarchical systems that resemble what is observed physiologically. He tells Sarah she can’t publish her paper until he has resolved this technical difficulty and published his own work.

Questions:

  1. Ryan’s protocol enabled Sarah’s results, but Sarah’s results reached a publishable end sooner. Since Ryan is the expert and taught Sarah everything she knows about EBs, she feels an obligation to wait for him to publish first. But how long can Ryan reasonably ask Sarah to wait? 
  2. Prof. Welsh and Prof. Padua are good friends and colleagues who have known each other for years. Prof. Padua is up for tenure next year, and could really benefit from adding this high-impact publication to his CV. What can he say to Prof. Welsh to try to submit Sarah’s paper as soon as possible?
  3. Is there something EBICS can do as a center to help these researchers navigate this situation? For example, would it help to have research exchanges preceded by an agreement between participating trainees and PIs, laying out rules for dissemination of information and publication timelines? What other ways can EBICS implement pre-emptive solutions to this type of problem?