Resource Identification Initiative

January 23, 2017

Standardized labeling of resources will improve the reproducibility in biomedical research.

“Reproducibility”—the ability to replicate a study using the same variables as the original, in order to confirm or refute findings—is an essential standard in biomedical research, but it’s also an elusive goal. A 2014 Nature article coauthored by the NIH director and principal deputy director, outlined the factors that impede reproducibility. These range from poor training of researchers in experimental design to publications protocols that do not require authors to report identifying information about the resources used in their studies. 

“The NIH is firmly committed to making systematic changes that should reduce the frequency and severity of this problem,” wrote Francis S. Collins and Lawrence A. Tabak, “but success will come only with the full engagement of the entire biomedical-research enterprise.”

Among the changes that NIH has championed is to promote a standardized method for labeling identifying information on antibodies, genetically modified animals, cell lines, software, databases, and other resources. The objective is to enable any researcher seeking to replicate a study to readily identify the resources used in the earlier research. 

“The omission of key information in a standardized format has been the problem with far too many research studies,” says Anita Bandrowski, Ph.D., a specialist at the Center for Research in Biological Systems at the University of California, San Diego. She’s working to overcome this challenge through the Resource Identification Initiative, which has the stated goal of enabling “resource transparency within the biomedical literature.”

The Initiative is being coordinated by FORCE11, a community that invites stakeholders to consider how scholarly communication should look in the coming century and for which Bandrowski serves as group leader. The initiative receives support from ORIP.

The Resource Identification Initiative’s solution to resource transparency problems is to promote use of Research Resource Identifiers (RRIDs). These are free, computer-searchable numbers, each unique to one resource and easily obtained through an online portal. Following a successful pilot involving a small number of journals and vendors and about 1000 papers, the Initiative is now expanding participation, with the goal of making the practice universal.

To support the initiative, new NIH publishing guidelines require authors to add RRIDs associated with their published studies into its database. At the same time, ORIP is educating the research community on reproducibility issues, including advocating use of dedicated biobanks (repositories of specific animal genotypes and cell lines for use in biomedical research) that assign RRIDs. 

“If you include your IDs, then it won’t take as long for others coming behind to track down the basic materials,” says Dr. Bandrowski. “It gives that researcher a leg up to reproduce a study, because everything is nicely laid out like a recipe.” 

Related reading:

Bandrowski, A., & Martone, M. E. (2016). RRIDs: A simple step toward improving reproducibility through rigor and transparency of experimental methods.
Neuron 90(3), 434–436.

Last updated: 05-13-2019