Crowd-Funded Micro-Grants for Genomics and “Big Data”: An Actionable Idea Connecting Small (Artisan) Science, Infrastructure Science and Citizen Philanthropy

OMICS, Volume 17, Issue 4, 2013
Vural Özdemir, Kamal F. Badr, Edward S. Dove, Laszlo Endrenyi, Christy Jo Geraci, Peter J. Hotez, Djims Milius, Maria Neves-Pereira, Tikki Pang, Charles N. Rotimi, Ramzi Sabra, Christineh N. Sarkissian, Sanjeeva Srivastava, Hesther Tims, Nathalie K. Zgheib, and Ilona Kickbusch

Biomedical science in the 21st century is embedded in, and draws from, a digital commons and “Big Data” created by high-throughput Omics technologies such as genomics. Classic Edisonian metaphors of science and scientists, i.e., “the lone genius” or other narrow definitions of expertise, are ill equipped to harness the vast promises of the 21st century digital commons. Moreover, in medicine and life sciences, experts often under-appreciate the important contributions made by citizen scholars and lead users of innovations to design innovative products and co-create new knowledge. We believe there are a large number of users waiting to be mobilized so as to engage with Big Data as citizen scientists – only if some funding were available. Yet many of these scholars may not meet the meta-criteria used to judge expertise, such as a track record in obtaining large research grants or a traditional academic curriculum vitae. This innovation research article describes a novel idea and action framework: micro-grants, each worth $1,000, for genomics and Big Data. Though a relatively small amount at first glance, this far exceeds the annual income of the “bottom one billion” – the 1.4 billion people living below the extreme poverty level defined by the World Bank ($1.25/day). We describe two types of micro-grants. Type 1 micro-grants can be awarded through established funding agencies and philanthropies that create micro-granting programs to fund a broad and highly diverse array of small artisan labs and citizen scholars to connect genomics and Big Data with new models of discovery such as open user innovation. Type 2 micro-grants can be funded by existing or new science observatories and citizen think tanks through crowd-funding mechanisms described herein. Type 2 micro-grants would also facilitate global health diplomacy by co-creating crowd-funded micro-granting programs across nation-states in regions facing political and financial instability while sharing similar disease burdens, therapeutics and diagnostic needs. We report the creation of ten Type 2 micro-grants for citizen science and artisan labs to be administered by the nonprofit Data-Enabled Life Sciences Alliance International (DELSA Global, Seattle). Our hope is that these micro-grants will spur novel forms of disruptive innovation and genomics translation by artisan scientists and citizen scholars alike. We conclude with a neglected voice from the global health frontlines, the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani, and suggest that many similar global regions are now poised for micro-grant enabled collective innovation to harness the 21st century digital commons.