Crowdfunding with Seattle sauce

Forget everything you think you know about scientific research and the starched white-lab-coat image.

Bonnie McGregor is one of those people who have a traditional career with years of publications in peer-reviewed journals. She’s been at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle for 11 years.  But replace your image of her there with her new online presence at the website Indiegogo, where hipsters raise money for movies and putting out rock music. McGregor is raising money for ovarian cancer research.

“I am hoping we can use crowd funding to get our stress management tools (and maybe even the wellness program we’re developing) out to the public too.  When I write grants, it feels like work.  Crowdfunding is fun … It is nice to feel the direct support of the community for my work.” She explains that seeing the response via crowdfunding feels “like people cheering me on.”

In about a week, McGregor and her team raised about $4,000 toward their goal of $10,000. She’s an expert on the relationship of stress to the growth of cancer, both ovarian and breast cancer. Her project is about creating a workbook that women with cancer can use to reduce their stress. When McGregor talks about stress, she isn’t just talking about a psychological reality, but also a biological reality, that the regulation of your genes is influenced by your stress. At her website, for example, there is a “heat map” showing the changes in regulation of certain genes after stress management training that the new program is based on.

Not only is McGregor asking the public directly for money, she’s creating a workbook that patients will use online to practice their stress-management techniques at home between the live visits they make online with their therapists.

“We think this is exciting and important science and we want everybody to hear about it,” she says in a video at the Indiegogo site. She tells her research participants that they are pushing the frontiers of science, and suggests people who donate money can feel a part of that frontier-busting.

katriona-bergen-june-2013

Just across town in Seattle, Katriona Guthrie-Honea is unpacking the boxes of a new biological laboratory for do-it-yourselfers. With adult partners, this 16-year-old helped raise about $6,000 through a website called Microryza for what is called Hive Bio. Guthrie-Honea is just finishing her junior year in high school and has already gone to a TEDMED conference.

Bergen McMurray is the co-director with Guthrie-Honea. The two had the idea of a bio-hacker space where everyone can do biological research and met, literally, when they were both shopping at a hand-me-down event where laboratory equipment was being given away.

Other cities already have bio-hacker spaces, including Genspace in NY, MadLab in Manchester, UK, and La Pailasse in Paris.

The Seattle HiveBio is due to open next month in donated space that is part of Hackerbot in the SoDo neighborhood south of the city.

Crowdfunding for science has critics. A great analysis of some of the newest flavors of money-raising for science is in a blog post by Ethan Perlstein at Microryza. He calls one flavor the “local” style, where specific questions of special interest to communities are financed.

More about crowdfunding for science:

Alan Boyle examines biohacking in Cosmic Log

Biologist explains benefits for outreach

Power to the people