The Fridays – the Abstract

title-too-longHé this guy can’t write, he put a capital in the middle of a title! Yes, I did. On purpose. Last week I hinted at the abstract. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on it.

The abstract of an article is basically just a 250 word or so summary of the article you are about to read. The abstract is a tool for the reader to see if they are interested in reading the whole article. They found your abstract via search, or via referencing of another article. Often they find your abstract via your title. Now I am not skipping the art of writing a title, I will leave it for another day, but Research is indicating* that with a shorter title the reader is more engaged, reads more of the article and that articles with shorter titles are more likely to be cited than articles with longer titles. Why? Clarity in writing and nothing else. If you can express your self in a few words regarding the title, you are inclined to be more clear throughout the article.  I spoke about clarity before, and again we can see the importance of it. I am writing this blog for several reasons; one of them is to ‘stretch my leg’ so to say. To practice my writing, to apply myself to be more clear in my wording. It is important.

Now, lets say you got a great title and a crappy abstract. You will disappoint people right away; they will not read the rest of you awesome message in your article or grant application. This applies to books as well; if you give the reader a most engaging hook in the start of the story you will lose them quickly if you never deliver on that promise. Good introduction, best application ever, super exciting conclusions of your work will not get read if your abstract is bad.

A summary of the contents of a book, article, or formal speech.

Consider the definition of an abstract, presented here as a quote. Yes it needs to be a summary of things to come, but especially in grant writing if you cannot capture the imagination of the reader here, you will lose them forever. In the case of a grant application this is the difference between the application getting read in full or not. I know which application is getting funded in this scenario. So what else does the abstract need?

It needs to activate the reader in wanting to read more. Clarity is one, getting you vision across is another. I will try to give an example:

” The Biopharmaceutical optimization and New Biological Entity facility would be part of [NAME]. The facility would extend the service of the platform to evaluation of engineered libraries of mRNA and proteins.
Currently 1/6 of the total volume of the pharmaceutical industry comprises of bio-therapeutics. The predicted market growth of bio-therapeutics is 7 – 15% per year and it is expected that the pharmaceutical importance of protein therapeutics will increase in the future. Several academic research groups are carry out ground breaking research in finding new endogenous proteins with biological functions. For therapeutic purposes, however, the proteins should be optimized, and for this, protein engineering and screening of protein libraries are needed. This unit would facilitate maturation of the original protein findings towards functional therapy.
Through this application we aim at establish a high throughput facility that focuses on screening pharmaceutically interesting proteins and mRNA species. The proteins and mRNA will be engineered based on the goals and end-points of the customers. For example, we can look for reduced immunogenicity, affinity improvements, or altered intracellular distribution or pharmacokinetics of the proteins. We will develop cell free expression systems, methods to investigate glycosylation patterns, and provide preliminary information about proteins that show promise as potential drug candidates, biochemical tools or as drug delivery vehicles.
Related equipments in the pipeline for protein engineering and expression, or as accessories, will include automated liquid handling, protein purification (for a small selection of altered proteins), characterization, and methods to investigate protein stability and aggregation. These parameters are of utmost importance for early protein drug formulations. The proposed infrastructure would facilitate a high throughput protein optimization platform towards lead molecules and their characterization in terms of stability, solubility, aggregation and delivery.
The total sum applied for is XXX XXX €. This application is not part of any network , but it has obvious links to ‘Translational technologies’, ‘Structural biology’, and ‘Stem cells and biomaterials’.”

I was involved late at the writing this application and I think it summarizes the application well. We did not get the funding though and I feel now thinking about the impact we thought we could have in the long run we may have been too modest. So on the fly** I will try to rewrite this abstract with that in mind:

“In order to transcend ‘Eroom’s’ law and break the barrier of the diminishing returns in drug development despite exponential increase in research and development a radical new approach is needed. Ground breaking research in finding new endogenous proteins with biological functions is not considering the therapeutic purpose. Only optimized proteins have a chance to meet the though quality requirements of clinical testing to find the patient to provide proper treatment. After discovery of a protein with potential, i.e. a lead molecule, several rounds of engineering and screening of protein libraries are needed. A dedicated research unit would facilitate maturation of the original discovery towards functional therapy.

Our aims are to invest the funds to establish a facility that focuses on the screening of lead-molecules, such as proteins and RNA, and to engineer them in high throughput based on the goals and end-points of the customers. The funding will provide us with better and faster methods to reduce immunogenicity, to improve affinity, to alter intracellular distribution or pharmacokinetics of the new biological drugs. Novel tool such as cell free expression systems will be at the core of the technological platform. We envision that the long-term impact of the pre-clinical data we will generate will overcome the stringent quality controls at a much earlier stage.

We propose a structural investment of XXX XXX € to acquire dedicated equipment needed for protein engineering and protein expression. The platform will include an automated liquid handling station, protein purification equipment, and equipment to investigate protein stability and aggregation. The proposed infrastructure and research methods would be unique in [PLACE] and  would facilitate a high throughput protein optimization platform towards lead molecules and their characterization in terms of stability, solubility, aggregation and delivery for the whole of [Country].”

I tried to follow the order proposed from these guidelines. So with clearly stating the problem and motivation at the beginning first, to then be more indicating the impact the money would make, without too much detail about the method I hope I am enticing you to read on. To see the whole application. To get from “Mêh” to “Wow”. Let me know if the comments if I succeeded? I may use it then for a future application!

*) This image in this article is made by the authors of this articles and are under (c) of the article. If just borrowed it. Please contact me via the comments if you it is not allowed in any form.

**) I mean here I did this while writing this blog, not at an earlier stage nor with prior feed-back.