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What would it take to create a prestigious F1-inspired biomedical championship?

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jnikola Oct 17, 2022
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Many of you love Formula one (F1), right, or at least you heard of it? Well, it's the series of the most prestigious racing events in the world. The best and the fastest vehicles ever made race side by side to get the title of the world's best team. What you maybe did not know is that F1 is not about the money - Red Bull invested more than $200 mil in 2020 but actually earned $1.5 million. The F1 is about marketing and entertainment - it's a pinnacle of speed, power and skill, a show that boosts the progress of the automotive industry and engineering and enhances sales of the winning companies astronomically. Check this video.
The idea
What if we created a similar competition for the pharmaceutical and biomedical industry, where laboratories and companies of all kinds would compete to perform technically challenging tasks such as sequencing, proteome analysis, glycomics or design and produce COVID-19 vaccines in the shortest time possible by presenting and using their best technologies and teams?
  • existing science competitions are dealing with some smaller problems, are usually only student level and are not presented in a way understandable to general public
  • a playground for the whole industry to invest in, produce, test and improve their special series of machines, methods and products
  • raising awareness and teaching people about the subject
  • potentiating novelty and innovation
  • boosting winning companies sales
  • boosting the whole pharmaceutical and biomedical industries
  • solve current world problems in fast pace "for fun and prestige"
  • potentiating people to form teams and start companies (boosting private businesses)
Why it should work?
When COVID-19 happened, companies were investing a lot to solve the issue of safe and efficient vaccines. Among them were Moderna and AstraZeneca, a companies that were much smaller and "insignificant", but their innovative products fighting COVID-19 delivered astronomical growth in recent two years, bringing them to a list of top pharmaceutical companies . Not only the companies earned a lot of money, but their products for COVID-19 boosted sales of their non-COVID-19-related products, too. Due to COVID-19, a total amount of money invested in science and pharmacology grew a lot, followed by increasing safety standards, quality measurement procedures and regulation, too . I imagine the same to happen to winning labs or companies on the F1-inspired biomedical championship.

Requirements for it to work and bring the expected results
The F1-like biomedical nad pharmaceutical championship should fulfill the same requirements as an F1:
  • be entertaining to watch by :
  • solving the current unsolvable general problems that are easily understandable for everyone
  • easy-to-follow championship protocol
  • stict rules about the investments, methods, the play itself
  • streaming on all media
  • companies displaying state-of-art technologies
  • teams made of scientists, creative thinkers, leading scientists from the field, etc.
The ask for you
  • What else would it take to make a competition like this work and actually bring benefit to the whole industry and general public?
  • What are the biggest challenges?
  • What categories would you have?
  • What specific problems would you put to the championship to be solved? What requirements should all the problems fulfill ("solvable")?
  • How would you structure the championship?
  • How would you call it?
  • Are there some existing competitions that you would use as a template? Why they didn't reach popularity like an F1?

This challenge could perfectly fit as a solution to:
  • Darko Savic's idea of Establishing problem-solving as a professional sport at the international level
  • Subash Chapagain's idea of “The next best questions” real-time competition online - finding relevant "races"/problems for the scientists to tackle




Creative contributions

Biggest challenge: Time span of the competition and the lack of visual thrill

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 17, 2022
Science experiments take a relatively long time even if the researcher knows the procedure by heart. This is a big drawback in the current age where results are tried to be achieved in the shortest time. As an example, the international game of cricket started as a 5-day test match. There was no limitation over the number of balls bowled. In 1971, a limited-over (50 overs) one-day international was initiated. In 2007, an even shorter version, a T20 (20 overs), was initiated and became popular. This clearly establishes that achieving results in a shorter period is what makes an event popular.
Secondly, there is a lack of visual thrill in science experiments. Most science experiments (at least in biology and medicine) happen at the microscopic or individual level. Imagine a researcher performing DNA extraction in a stadium. The audience won't be able to observe the experiment closely. Also, they wouldn't know if the DNA was extracted successfully unless the researcher says that it is. And more commonly, scientific results are unexpected. It is a trial-and-error method.
How do we tackle these problems?
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jnikola2 years ago
Hahaha this is a great example of a common scientific way of thinking! Thank you for pointing this out as the biggest and most important challenge, since it indeed is - the perception of science!
In my opinion, this challenge would never be presented as you stated - there would definitely be limited time available for the "race" and there wouldn't be any isolation of the DNAs on site. However, the problem of designing a challenge that could be achieved in a limited time (a few hours) and be visually appealing is still here and should be considered within any solution/contribution.
One way how we could solve this is by implementing top-notch science to design tools (equivalent to vehicles in F1) to fight e.g. antibiotic resistance, cleaning oil spills on the ocean surface, removing tons of waste from the ocean ground, sequencing difficult tissue materials, or other quantifiable challenges. It should be applicative science, not a demonstrative. But this is what I wanted people to start thinking about - thinking outside the box!
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni2 years ago
J. Nikola Yes, visually appealing to the point of cheering, audience enthusiasm that is maintained throughout the game, and thinking of tasks that could be done in a limited time are what I wanted to point out. I listed this as a contribution and not as a comment since challenges was a part of "the ask".
I realized that I was thinking more from the point of view of the audience and their involvement in the game. Of course, it will impact the game since the more the TRP, the more the cash flow and popularity of the game. However, the other point of view of the players and the organizers is also important. And, as you said, relevant applicative competitions could be a start. I will think of a concrete competition and post it.
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jnikola Oct 27, 2022
The first sport that falls into my mind when I think of ageing, injuries or biology is Paralympics. People with disabilities who try to win by training hard could potentially present an interesting crowd for biotechnological advances to jump in and enhance their performance. Of course, this would not fit into the traditional Paraolympics program but could function as a separate competition where people who couldn't compete due to their liabilities now beat world records due to all kinds of gadgets, training types or other means. Except for biotech companies and laboratories working in biomaterials, prosthetics, regeneration medicine or similar fields, competition could be co-funded by the army, governments or other public bodies that can directly change the lives of the disabled ones if new adequate technology gets developed. At this moment it's not as entertaining as an F1, but watching people with disabilities who do amazing stuff and break records could be. The important thing would be to keep it safe and approved by ethical committees.
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Find the science in sport, instead of trying to turn the science into sport

Spook Louw
Spook Louw Oct 27, 2022
Technically, I think F1 is already, at least partly, a self-funding, competitive, science experiment. The engineers who design the cars to optimize their performance under the given regulations are at the top of their fields. As such, the technology developed in F1 often either benefits the world directly or contributes to the research that will. Their efforts towards sustainability, for example, are at the forefront of research into alternative fuel.
The commercial success of F1 though is caused not by science, but by the appeal of the sport. So what I would suggest is to find another sport which can benefit from major investment into the scientific aspects of it, rather than to attempt to create a competition out of something scientific.
As an example, if we could create enough commercial potential for long-distance running to allow teams to justify major investments in research, they would contribute towards progress in nutritional science and sportswear technology. Examples of this can be found across sporting codes, like the research into concussions in rugby has brought to light some very interesting theories to account for the differences in men's and women's injuries.
The more relient the sport is on the science, the better it will be for the purpose of scientific development. This is why F1 is such a good example. The design of the car is at least equally as important to winning as the talent of the driver, if not more. So I think we should focus our attention on finding or creating sport that will benefit from research that has value outside of the specific sport as well, instead of trying to create a competitive sport out of the science itself.
What other sports are there that would benefit humanity with the research it would produce should it get the same type of funding F1 does?



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jnikola2 years ago
Very very interesting contribution. Thank you for pointing out something very important. Although we do not necessarily need to be strictly inspired by F1, your comments could bring us closer to what we need. I wrote a contribution based on your comment.
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Molecular "shooting range" competition

jnikola Dec 23, 2022
A competition where molecular biologists, physicists, chemists and other enthusiasts could test their skills in recognizing, targeting and playing with molecular tools in a highly-regulated environment to solve fun challenges and win rewards.
  • For fun
  • To boost creativity in finding new scientific solutions
  • Opening and solving critical scientific questions
  • Testing new tools on real-world models and comparing them with the competition's
How would it work?
I will not go into detail about the structure of the competition/challenge. I will introduce some categories that could be used and the benefits they could bring.
The challenge ideas:
  • Molecular hide-and-seek
Model: Many types of cells isolated from plants, humans and microbes get mixed together into a heterogenous cell culture/suspension. They include healthy cells (stem cells, epithelial, bacterial, etc) and the diseased ones (cancer, mutated, multidrug resistant, etc). However, there is one cell line with specific phenotype, genetic marker, glowing plasmid or some other genetic or non-genetic trait.
The challenge: Teams need to find and identify that specific cell population, target it and extract as many cells of that kind as they can. Ideally, there would be NO SPECIFIC CELLS LEFT in the heterogenous mixture and the tool would extract ONLY the specified cells. If the targeted cells are diseased and need to be removed, the rest of the cells shouldn't be harmed.
The rules: Teams could use any tool, from a screwdriver, to single cells sequencing, atomic force imaging and spectrophotometry. Anything they think of, they could use. The winner is selected based on three main criteria: TIME, SELECTIVITY and EFFICIENCY.
  • Fight the Resistance
Model: Cells with highest multidrug resistance are mixed with healthy cells and cultured.
The challenge: Using only natural and synthetic compounds, teams need to make resistant cells sensitive to as many agents as they can, while not harming the healthy ones.
The rules: No genetic engineering is allowed. Teams can only sample the cells from the mixture, sequence them or analyze in any other context to design the best approach. The winner is selected based on three main criteria: TIME, SELECTIVITY and EFFICIENCY.
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General comments

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni2 years ago
This idea is also a solution for the challenge "How do we make science cooler?"
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jnikola2 years ago
Ideas for challenges that could be solved in these competitions are actually many of the topics started on this platform such as:
  • Using existing vaccines to potentially prevent the next pandemic from the 10 most likely viruses
  • Could adjuvants in vaccines cause allergies or autoimmune diseases?
  • Immune system fight sport
  • Antibiotics Allmighty
  • Fastest and the deepest sequencing of the human blood cells
  • etc.
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