If one were to look at the ecosystem for scientific research today, one would see that there’s a proper system in place-albeit a sub-optimal and outmoded one. Scientists research various scientific topics at a glacial pace, jot down their research, and publish subsequent findings in the form of research papers, which are then reviewed by ‘peers’ (other scientists in the same field of study). If enough ‘peers’ deem the research credible enough, it gets accepted as a new discovery/finding.
This system, of course, has its pros and cons like any other. The biggest benefit is that whatever research that’s widely accepted is in fact likely valid, implementable, experimentable and trustworthy. The biggest downside is the presence of intermediaries who end up having a startling amount of control over which research is published and which isn’t. This is because of the involvement of intellectual property laws, coupled with the difficulty associated with obtaining research funding. Since funds usually come from big pharma or government agencies and thus with the resulting red tape, many research projects are never even initiated. Moreover, researchers’ spend half their time writing grant proposals, only for the bulk of proposals to be rejected.
These limitations and restrictions rankle the researchers themselves more than anyone else. A lot of research scientists have several projects they never got the funding to look into or have had to abandon due to political and other pressure.
DeSci has the potential to change this. Still nascent, DeSci aims to remove the gatekeeping barriers to scientific funding and research, ameliorate reliance on profit-hungry intermediaries like publisher conglomerates, and substantially improve the collaborative atmosphere across the board.
To combat the paywall problem, the Open Science movement took off a year ago. Subsequently, publishers moved from a pay-to-read model to a pay-to-publish model. So now readers don’t have to pay, but scientists who want to publish their research must pay a publishing fee (some publishers charge ridiculous amounts to publish a single paper). This just ends up concentrating even more power in the hands of publisher conglomerates.
Enter DeSci While DeSci is in fact aligned with the Open Science movement, it is calibrated towards a different objective. The biggest difference that DeSci brings to the research table is an enhanced ability to collaborate and a democratized access to knowledge by leveraging blockchain. It is akin to how Web3 and the blockchain are disrupting other industries. Nevertheless, research is arguably one of the (if not the most) significant drivers of human progress, so to see it instilled with the benefits that blockchain brings is incredibly exciting.
Put a certain way, DeSci is only trying to do what DeFi did, but with research and science. How the ‘De’ in DeSci can improve standard research Democratizing funding We’ve already looked at how traditional research is funded. Tldr; researchers write grant proposals that are then submitted to authoritative bodies, which then take ages to get accepted, if at all. Web3 enables systems that function independently of legacy systems. For DeSci, this means being able to financially support researchers. Infact, this is happening at a breakneck pace in the aging/longevity field. DAOs like VitaDao, Impetus Grants, and Gitcoin are funding projects in the $100K-$1M range. This is huge, and as the trend grows, researchers will be able to rely less and less on traditional funding mechanisms.
Overhauling the peer review process Another process DeSci can massively impact is redefining how research is published. Today, researchers have to pay to publish their research with journals like Nature, Science and Cell. DeSci can revolutionize this process by ensuring that researchers who need funding need to only preprint their research on servers like BioRxiv, MedRxiv, and Arxiv. This will leave them with a lot more time to focus on researching instead of getting bogged down in administrative tedium. This also helps circumvent the elaborate, time-consuming and inherently difficult peer review system, making research come out to the world faster.
A simple preprint requirement would eliminate the need to pay to publish, while also speeding up the entire research process.
How the ‘De’ in DeSci can improve clinical research Decentralizing Clinical Trials In the US, the FDA is overburdened with a huge backlog. This means that only large corporations with huge resources can get their products tested and pushed to the market on time. With DeSci, the underlying collaborative tools can empower research anywhere in the world, helping us progress and innovate our medicine faster. For example, trials for treating conditions more prevalent in certain areas are far easier to conduct in those regions, but this isn’t something that is currently prevalent. DeSci can enable this, alongside deeper collaboration between doctors and pharmaceutical researchers.
Prioritizing hitting shelves instead of patenting In the current system, the costs of drug development are extremely high, often costing billions of years and between 5-10 years. Owing to how long it takes, patents are an integral part of the system as break-even points are attained over long periods of time. If DCTs are cheaper and faster, the drug development process immediately reaps the benefits too. When a treatment becomes cheap enough that doctors and patients together prefer it, how can other drug makers undercut? Point being, the faster their work hits shelves, the better researchers are protected against other players stealing their work.
Thanks to crypto, the general public can pay for this research and bypass the often stifling conventional institutions. There’s no shareholders to pay dividends to and no corporations who need a profitable balance sheet. Medicinal research can be actually overhauled into something owned and grown by the general human society. The inherent transparency of the blockchain also ensures that these research funds are used and reused appropriately. Furthermore, there is of course the potential for NFTs to replace traditional patents.
Which brings us to our next major point.
Tracking research with NFTs Imagine, if any scientist in any field of study can distribute his research to anyone, anywhere with no fear of it being stolen if the paper is an NFT. The most promising venue here is of patents or scientific intellectual property being registered as NFTs,, providing unprecedented composability and traceability compared to traditional intellectual property protection methods. In fact, this is already happening. At the University of California, Berkeley, an auction was held for an NFT linked to documents related to the research of Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher James Allison. They ended up auctioning the NFT for more than $50,000.
Of course, NFTs of the biggest inventions and discoveries will turn into collectibles too. Just like how scientific memorabilia is coveted today.
DAOs and DeSci With all this talk about DeSci, it must be evident by now that DAOs will play a pivotal role in the growth of DeSci. Today, there’s new DeSci DAOs emerging almost every week.
Opscientia is a DAO building a network of knowledge foundries, kind of like a library of libraries. PsyDao is furthering research into psychedelic medicine. LabDao is another community of dry and wet laboratories working to advance research in the life sciences.
DAOs form the foundation on which scientists, researchers and other interested stakeholders can collaborate. DAOs also provide an excellent platform to share knowledge, raise funding and prioritize research based on relevance rather than profit. A prime potential use case is those affected with a rare disease coming together to fund research that’ll improve their condition. Most big pharmas don’t develop drugs for rare diseases (because it’s a smaller market) and this would give those patients an excellent avenue to get better treatment.
Looking into the Future It’s easy to get excited about DeSci and all that it’ll enable. After all, DeFi grew to be worth $40 billion in just 2 years. Moreover, participants did not wait for the blessings of the SEC, Federal Reserve. DeSci needs the same, if not more momentum to grow in relevance. DeSci DAOs ought not to wait for the blessings of gatekeepers like the Ivy League.
As it stands, DeSci lacks a clear set of shared values. Right now, different DAOs are defining themselves by the problems they’re trying to solve. For a new scientific culture to emerge, the DeSci movement must rally behind common principles.
There also needs to be governance systems in place, and the movement needs to establish common protocols and standard practices. Yes, that’s how new DeSci is. Given how nascent it is, DeSci also needs proper governance and operational frameworks to be put in place.
Cross-pollination turbo charges innovation. We already know that DAOs revolutionize and empower how we collaborate. Our relationship with the financial markets and money in general has already reaped the benefits of this unbarred collaboration. While DeSci calls for different protocols, we’ve already seen that it isn’t impossible. Right now, the movement is in desperate need of experienced, quality talent to increase collaboration. From doctors and pharmacists, to philanthropists and entrepreneurs.