Talking open science with Dr. Nitika Pant Pai

Known for her work developing HIV Smart!, an award-winning smartphone application that allows for home-based self-testing for HIV, Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, Associate Professor in McGill University’s Department of Medicine, is also a fervent advocate for open science. Last fall Dr. Pant Pai, who is also a researcher at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, was named as the lead curator for the launch of six new point-of-care testing (POCT) super collections on infectious diseases on ScienceOpen.

Dr. Nitika Pan Pai
Dr. Nitika Pan Pai

Dr. Pant Pai recently took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for us about her work with ScienceOpen and how it can benefit researchers and, ultimately, patients.

Could you talk about the concept of ScienceOpen and explain its relevance to both research and clinical care?
The ScienceOpen platform is about knowledge sharing with the world. The platform is open access with an emphasis on maintaining high quality. Its target demographic includes researchers, funders, policy makers and institutions.

Knowledge sharing is the first step towards creating a greater awareness amongst stakeholders primarily, and then that secondarily and slowly leads to inclusion of best evidence in practice and policy to eventually influence changes in health at the local, national and global levels.

Knowledge hoarding does the reverse — it impacts change only in the developed world, while the developing world has to wait at least 3-6 months, for high quality papers to be released in the public domain and has to contend with second-class science. This wait time costs lives.

This differential can change with the use of digital technology — and access to knowledge. That is the essence of the open access mission of ScienceOpen — faster dissemination, faster uptake and faster inclusion in clinical care and public policy. The bulk of inferior care is in the developing world and the world today is flat. Knowledge sharing platforms like these are a great equalizer.

Knowledge sharing can also spur innovations that have the phenomenal capacity to bring about disruption in health care service delivery or health care service models that are often cost effective. Knowledge sharing can influence discourse, that is a first step towards influencing change.

So, open science is a movement for rapid dissemination of credible work for the benefit of the larger society to impact knowledge movement, knowledge sharing and beyond for the greater global good. Anything that is to serve humanity has the power to affect many lives.

Traditional databases require a search string and a process of evidence search that requires a little bit of know how, and that require more time.

In this open science collection, users are able to quickly search for manuscripts by author, by journal, or by topic. This provides an advantage over traditional search engines and databases in that all content is curated by a set of people who know the knowledge space. The platform is open so anyone can contribute credible work. If it meets the criteria for inclusion, it will be included. It is like a one-stop boutique shop for the end users.

It also allows anyone from any part of the world to have access to all of the scientific proceedings, abstracts and journal articles in their field. The platform is growing, so in a few years it will have many curated content collections sorted by topic area.

This targeted space in one location is very relevant for research and clinical care as it reduces the amount of time being wasted doing a literature search on a topic.

In the case of the ScienceOpen Super Collections, someone has already done all of the searching, sorting, and organizing by topic/content area for you, so all you need to do is save and read the articles. I believe in the end that this will prove to save a lot of time and money, while increasing research productivity and clinical applicability.

What is a point-of-care testing super collection? What kind of content will people be able to find?
 Nowadays inferior, superior and everything in between scientific knowledge is available at your fingertips on Google. However, quality, unbiased peer-reviewed research articles that are not driven by algorithms are sometimes needed and are usually hard to find when you really need them. It takes time. Hence, you need to curate it to make it handy, easy, and useful for the end users. 

A super collection on point-of-care testing for infectious diseases (Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Sexually Transmitted Blood Borne Infections (STBBI)/Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD)) was born out of this need to fill gaps in availability of knowledge at one place, filtered by topic and accessible to all at all times. It was inspired by discussions amongst stakeholders and the need and utility expressed by them, at our Global Health Diagnostics course that is hosted by the McGill Summer Institute each year in June.

ScienceOpen was generous enough to offer a space and platform to us to make it happen — good karma for all. ScienceOpen creates super collections on a variety of relevant research topics. The challenge in HIV/STBBI/Tuberculosis (TB) is not availability of newer treatments or newer devices, it is reaching out to people with faster solutions and improving access to those solutions. Point of care devices are one example of many solutions. The use of POCT is growing both research-wise and commercially, as there is a huge demand for curated content in one location.

Who are the super collections for? How will people use them and how will they get to the people that should be using them? 
This is our collection for the world, and helps make it a smaller place, with access and dissemination of POC diagnostic literature to the wider global health and diagnostics community. Authors can also review a paper and comment on it after reading it, which increases discussion and debate, important factors for scientific growth. You will find high-quality peer-reviewed papers by topic on this platform. As I mentioned, anyone that is interested — from clinicians to scientists, researchers, policy makers, funders, and industry to media and governments can learn about a given topic by visiting ScienceOpen.

Members of my lab are curating the content, as are our growing team of credible editors and contributors that includes well-published authors and reputable investigators in their field. All academics would like this platform because it will help get their word out — faster and better.

The collections are growing and anyone who can help us grow them, they are welcome to join us or to help out! It is inclusive and open and for the world.

How can scientists and healthcare workers in global health benefit from POCT collection online?
As a researcher, we are often called on to deliver a talk on a topic for example, or we need to look up advanced research on a topic, and we typically don’t have the time to find an existing systematic review or to complete a systematic review ourselves in order to obtain an unbiased opinion, nor to search for any new articles that may have been recently published and haven’t yet been indexed.

The POCT super collection addresses these needs in the form of a one-stop boutique shop for your research/knowledge needs.

Can you tell us about your first venture into POCT super collections with ScienceOpen?
Since 2015 I have served as an editor for ScienceOpen, in particular since 2017, as an editor for their HIV/STBBI point-of-care testing collection. We released the collection on World AIDS Day last year. We will be monitoring the usage metrics and seeking feedback from our authors and users to assess whether they found it useful.

To learn more about the POCT Super Collections, or to access them, visit: