PREMIER - a model for better research quality

Missing data, incomplete minutes, unclear research designs: many pre-clinical studies in biomedicine are not quite 100% robust. A team led by Charité researcher Prof. Dr. Ulrich Dirnagl is committed to improving research quality – so they developed PREMIER.

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PREMIER is an acronym for "Predictiveness and Robustness through Modular Improvement of Experimental Research".

PREMIER - the name is both an acronym and a program: "Predictiveness and Robustness through Modular Improvement of Experimental Research". PREMIER is intended to bring about an improvement in biomedical research – claim made by many quality management systems. But as it has been developed by researchers for researchers, PREMIER sets itself apart. Its initiator Ulrich Dirnagl designed and tested the system at the Charité Department of Experimental Neurology. Following the proof of concept, the Berliners now want to transfer PREMIER to other laboratories.

PREMIER consists of four modules, each of which describes a core dimension of scientific quality management. If a laboratory perceives weaknesses in study planning or reporting, for example, they can turn to PREMIER for expert guidance. There are also solutions for governance or error management. Which modules laboratories use depends on their specific needs. And this is found out in an assessment. Depending on the size of the laboratory, such an assessment can take up to a day.

Dirnagl's team worked on PREMIER for around three years. It was funded with 600,000 euros by the Volkswagen Foundation as part of its "University of the Future" initiative – and it is unique. Neither at Yale, Harvard or Princeton could the Charité researchers find a practicable benchmark. This gap is no coincidence, for fame and glory in science comes with progress in research, not in quality management. "To develop such a system is highly altruistic," explains Dr. Oliver Grewe, program director at the Volkswagen Foundation. Ulrich Dirnagl puts it this way: "We are the snow plough. We pave the way. Those who follow have it easier".

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A short video on the PREMIER website explains how the tool works. (Screenshot: https://premier-qms.org)

Of course, PREMIER does entail a little extra work in addition to existing measures of quality management; but researchers obviously recognize the value of the innovative system. However, to see quality management as an essential step in avoiding research errors and ensuring reliable research results – and not just as a burdensome workload – calls for a collegial feedback culture. "We don't give grades, but help each other to become better," explains PREMIER coordinator Claudia Kurreck. Her job is to keep the spirit of PREMIER alive and to develop it further. She is also responsible for organizing the upcoming assessments for five or six test laboratories.

Three partner laboratories have already been found: another Charité laboratory, an MPI laboratory in Leipzig, and one at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin. Other interested laboratories can get an overview on the PREMIER website, which recently went online. PREMIER will continue to develop after funding by the Volkswagen Foundation comes to an end. An application for the German Research Foundation is currently being prepared. The aim is to make PREMIER available to as many research laboratories as possible and to integrate it into their everyday work. 

PREMIER has already become routine at the Experimental Neurology Department, including onboarding. Newcomers learn which steps have to be followed in research design, how to keep lab notebooks and how to prepare data. There are guidelines and training courses for this. "Smaller laboratories will certainly not need a full-time position to support their researchers in modular quality assurance," says Kurreck: especially not in order to get started.

Author: Christine Prußky