Solutions

FileMaker and Excel at Work in the Lab

Mouse Brain Library

In the race to understand the genetic underpinnings of brain–based diseases like autism, Parkinson's and schizophrenia, researchers at the Informatics Center for Mouse Neurogenetics at the University of Tennessee and Harvard University are mapping the genes that control the architecture inside the brain of mammals.

Overview

  • Researchers at the Informatics Center for Mouse Neurogenetics are using FileMaker and Excel to organize and share important research data with colleagues around the world.

Industry

  • Higher Education

Over the past few years, our group has become completely dependent on FileMaker Pro relational databases. FileMaker databases have replaced notebooks and spreadsheets for most lab work and even some primary analysis…Best of all, our lab data are now accessible over the Internet from any computer in the lab or around the world.

— Dr. Robert Williams, Professor at the University of Tennessee, Co–Founder, Mouse Brain Library

Business Challenge

In this work, perfectly normal and subtle differences in brain architecture (numbers of cells, connections between cells, and so on) can have profound effects on behavior and disease susceptibility. And slight changes in the way researchers at the Mouse Brain Library are managing data using FileMaker and Excel are having profound effects on their ability to organize and share that information with colleagues around the world.

"As researchers, we often do a great job handling the hard problems of neuroscience and bioinformatics, but often neglect to take care of simple housekeeping," says Dr. Robert Williams, professor at the University of Tennessee and co–founder of the Mouse Brain Library.

Successful Solution

"Over the past few years, our group has become completely dependent on FileMaker Pro relational databases," says Dr Williams. "FileMaker databases have replaced notebooks and spreadsheets for most lab work and even some primary analysis. The improvement in lab data acquisition and handling has been amazing and unrelated files and data sets can often be easily tracked and merged. Best of all, our lab data are now accessible over the Internet from any computer in the lab or around the world."

Finding simple data in a sophisticated lab may sound easy, but the process can be surprisingly difficult. To confirm the sex and age of samples, for instance, researchers may have to search through several sets of lab notebooks and Excel spreadsheets. To determine the size of related samples, they may have to sift through shoe boxes full of animal cage cards.

Local control, speed and mobility are far more important than processing speed or high–level feature sets. Most importantly, you need to retain full control of your own data. And that's where FileMaker's ability to work so smoothly with Excel is a huge advantage.

— Dr. Robert Williams, Professor at the University of Tennessee, Co–Founder, Mouse Brain Library

"Entering data directly into a consolidated database greatly simplifies record keeping and minimizes data loss and data transcription errors," says Dr. Williams. "Data should flow from one stage or level to the next without the need to transcribe or reformat."

The path to connected data flow begins by connecting FileMaker and Excel.

"Most lab researchers use Excel in some capacity to manage lab data. Since the interface between Excel and FileMaker is so easy, it's simple to extend Excel beyond disjointed sets of spreadsheets to a FileMaker Pro relational database," says Dr. Williams.

Not only does data from Excel easily integrate into FileMaker, but data from FileMaker easily integrates into Excel.

"By typing in a case identification number, researchers worldwide have immediate access to information in any of the related databases — all of which can easily be exported to Excel for analysis," says Dr. Williams. "Excel is excellent for quickly computing simple statistics, such as the mean, media, average or errors. But Excel is definitely not a database program."

He is equally cautionary about what he calls "heavy iron commercial programs."

"Oracle and Sybase are a mismatch for the typical laboratory environment, which needs to change on a weekly, or even daily, basis," he says. "Local control, speed and mobility are far more important than processing speed or high–level feature sets. Most importantly, you need to retain full control of your own data. And that's where FileMaker's ability to work so smoothly with Excel is a huge advantage."

Customer Benefits

Small things can have huge impact. For the Mouse Brain Library, moving to FileMaker and integrating with Excel has helped get information that may conquer some of the world's most debilitating diseases into the right hands.

"Choosing the right tools for the right jobs is invaluable for enabling our extended family of neuroscientists to collaborate effectively with researchers worldwide to share information, avoid duplicate efforts and advance their research," says Dr. Williams.

For FileMaker:

Kevin Mallon
Public Relations Manager
FileMaker Inc.
408-987-7227
kevin_mallon@filemaker.com
http://www.filemaker.com