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1996-2015: SLAS Journals Celebrate 20 Years of Scientific Innovation

Necessity is the mother of invention, and when paired with a powerful vision for advancing scientific innovation, voilà – stars are born.


In the early 1990s, as energetic groups of inventive scientists broke new ground in laboratories, they recognized that something was missing – a resource for information, ideas, experience and perspective on the rapidly evolving scientific specialty of laboratory science and technology. With confidence that other like-minded professionals felt the same, they created the membership organizations that led to the eventual formation of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening.

The Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA) and the Society for Biomolecular Screening (SBS) were founded with complementary missions to educate and advance different dimensions of laboratory science and technology. They did so by organizing conferences, exhibitions and newsletters. It's in those early newsletters that the seeds for the Journal of Biomolecular Screening (JBS) and the Journal of Laboratory Automation (JALA) sprouted and grew into the rigorously peer-reviewed, MEDLINE-indexed scientific journals published today.

SLAS member priorities span a unique scientific continuum. This diversity is embraced and expressed by JALA and JBS. Their editorial focus resides on complementary stretches of this continuum. They are not mutually exclusive yet they are distinct. Together, JALA and JBS address the issues that are mission-critical to the life sciences R&D community, enabling laboratory research teams to gain scientific insights, increase productivity, elevate data quality, reduce lab process cycle times and enable experimentation that otherwise would be impossible.

2015 marks 20 years of publication for these two crown jewels of SLAS achievement. By year-end, the searchable online archives of JALA and JBS will offer more than 23,000 published pages of original scientific reports that have been cited by other qualified journals more than 15,000 times. Throughout 2015, the JALA and JBS archives will be visited nearly two million times by readers from more than 150 countries, and they will download nearly a half million full-text articles.

Collectively, the many review articles, original research reports, application notes, technical briefs and editorials published in JALA and JBS document scientific and technological progress that mirrors the evolution of the Societies that published them. Collectively, the breakthroughs reported within them reflect the work of tens of thousands of life sciences R&D professionals whose achievements now live in perpetuity as hallmarks of excellence within the scientific literature.

Motivation in the Face of Frustration

It was a dearth of information in the scientific literature that propelled both journals into being. As skyrocketing advances in laboratory technologies opened new doors for scientific researchers, particularly those working in drug discovery, information was in high demand...but it was scarce. The established journals offered very little of what this new scientific specialty sought, and to add insult to injury, many were skeptical or just not interested in publishing advances in laboratory automation and screening.

In 1987, Robin Felder, Ph.D., and friends decided to change the scientific publishing landscape by launching Laboratory Automation News (LAN) from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. LAN was a news journal that occasionally published peer-reviewed research reports. Eventually, as the quantity and quality of submissions increased, LAN morphed into the Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation (JALA) and when SLAS was formed in 2011 it was renamed the Journal of Laboratory Automation (JALA). It was a labor-intensive undertaking, but it was a labor of love. Felder recalls that in those early days "we always worked long hours near the deadlines to avoid any spelling, grammar or layout errors."

The Journal of Biomolecular Screening experienced a similar newsletter-to-journal trajectory. "In the first few years each issue of the journal was a milestone," says JBS Founding Editor-in-Chief Mark S. Crawford, Ph.D., now retired in Kirkland, WA. "There was a question of whether there would be enough good papers and how the journal as a whole would be received."

Former JALA Editor-in-Chief Mark Russo, Ph.D., of Bristol-Myers Squibb in Hopewell, NJ, also experienced some nail-biting. "To be perfectly truthful, I did not sleep much that night (when he was appointed editor) as the enormity of the responsibility began to sink in. A lot of hard work went into publishing each and every issue of JALA."

Former JBS Editor-in-Chief Larry Walker, Ph.D., of the University of Mississippi in University, MS, recalls, "In those days for many scientific journals, 'screening' suffered from limited and somewhat misguided perceptions regarding its scientific rigor and innovation. This totally changed during the first 10 to 12 years of JBS's life. By 2007, the academic papers submitted outnumbered those from industry by a wide margin, and a number of major academic centers and the NIH had established screening centers and 'chemical biology' groups. This expansion continued in the post-genomic era, as we merged the high-volume chemical informatics with high-content screens and various 'omics' platforms."

Several other important changes occurred as well. Says Walker, "In the late 90s and early 2000s, the rapid growth in journal submissions and the quality of the articles allowed JBS to move from four to six issues annually in 1999, and then to eight in 2004, and 10 in 2008. This represented very rapid growth, and the quality of the articles was also improving at the same time, thanks to a great panel of reviewers and active board members."

JBS Editor-in-Chief Robert M. Campbell, Ph.D., of Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, IN, notes, "In our first year of publication (1999), JBS received 44 manuscript submissions. By the end of 2013, we had 257 manuscripts submitted; an almost a 6-fold increase! I believe this reflects the growing interest and value of the journal to the scientific community."

JALA experienced similar momentum. Russo explains, "During my tenure with JALA the field of laboratory automation was advancing by leaps and bounds. This was reflected perfectly in the increasing quality of manuscripts that we published and broadening interest in the journal. It was very gratifying to play a role in helping the journal advance, and continues to be gratifying to watch as the journal continues to advance along with the field of laboratory automation more generally. Today, I think of JALA as the premier journal in which to find the highest quality research associated with laboratory technology. It truly is one of a kind."

The Spirit of Community

Like Walker, Felder also counts the active support of editorial board members among his secrets for JALA's early success. "I was particularly proud of the Board of Editors that we were able to attract early in the founding of JALA, which included many internationally recognized scientist/engineers such as J. Craig Venter and Leroy Hood."

Former JALA Editor-in-Chief Dean Ho, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, also is "very proud of the internationally-renowned innovators that have contributed to JALA, served as reviewers, and the amazing team of editors and scientific advisors affiliated with JALA." New JALA Editor-in-Chief Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D., of the National University of Singapore, agrees. "The editors of JALA are a diverse group of professionals from all over the world and it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet and discuss how to improve JALA with them."

Crawford also emphasizes that "the success of JBS was due to the many people who submitted papers, reviewed papers and followed the journal." Today, over the course of any given year, an army of more than 1,000 SLAS volunteers step up and contribute as authors, peer reviewers, editors and members of the editorial boards. Their efforts continue to be the fundamental component that makes publication possible.

Rising Stars

According to Ho, "JALA has evolved to become a focal point for featuring innovation that has been born from the intersection of so many fields including bioengineering, chemistry, robotics, materials science, nanotechnology, mechanical engineering and many others. It's setting the standard as a publication that features innovation at the interface of academic and commercial/government research and development. New journals are constantly being introduced into the community, and JALA has maintained its position as a leading resource that publishes breakthroughs that are defining how new drugs are being developed, and redefining the way that diagnostics and screening platforms are impacting everyday lives."

Chow says "I have seen amazing advances in the field of laboratory automation and these advances are being reflected in JALA. Specifically, the miniaturization of automated processes and a greater implementation of laboratory automation technology into a wider range of applications. JALA has a front seat and will be able to tell the story of some amazing research in the future."

Likewise for JBS Campbell explains "JBS is certainly the 'go to' journal for novel screening assays and technologies, and it continues to evolve to meet the needs of the drug discovery community.

"When JBS was a fledgling journal," Campbell continues, "the editors focused almost entirely on high-throughput screening (HTS) and associated technologies, which was appropriate and very timely. JBS then progressed to ultra-HTS and high-content screening as we miniaturized and developed imaging platforms. Many of these methods and technologies are now part of the everyday 'drug discovery toolbox.' Readers have become much more sophisticated in data handling and analysis, and now dealing routinely with enormous data sets. The learning from HTS is now being applied to ADME/PK, toxicology, diagnostics, biomarker assays and genomics. Screening approaches have changed, incorporating more focused, virtual and fragment libraries (vs. the old brute force methods) and exploring new modalities of target modulation: protein-protein interactions, therapeutic antibodies, large molecules, RNA silencing, etc.

"I believe we have also learned that more time needs to be devoted to identifying and validating the most appropriate drug targets, and then developing the most relevant assays to reflect the biology we wish to modulate. A more thorough understanding of kinetics, binding mode(s), target context, and patient stratification are clearly required to improve the success of drug discovery. JBS's broadening scope reflects these trends and new areas of focus."

Come Transform Research

The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening is highly regarded by the scientific community for many reasons, and when asked, SLAS members consistently say that one of the most important reasons they belong to the Society is for access to JALA and JBS.

In addition to serving SLAS members, JALA and JBS were among the first participants in what's now known as the Research4Life initiative, which embraces the SLAS mission by making best-in-class scientific research available to like-minded but under-funded health professionals, researchers, scientists and policy makers in developing nations.

JALA and JBS readers, authors and editors know that staying in step with changing technology and trends is not just a key to success, it's the key to what kindles passion and unlocks the mind's eye. As JALA and JBS begin their third decade of publication, they do so in partnership with their readers, authors, reviewers, editors and staff, and with high expectations for excellence and continued leadership in ingenuity, inventiveness and innovation.

Personal Reflections from the JALA & JBS Editors-in-Chief

Journal of Biomolecular Screening

Robert M. Campbell, Ph.D.
Eli Lilly & Company
Indianapolis, IN

"As editor, I have the great privilege of seeing science evolve first-hand. This expands greatly beyond my current scope of scientific interests and gives me a broader appreciation and perspective of science in general. Comments from reviewers have taught me how to be more objective and self-critical. I am able to interact with a large number of scientists around the world, from other pharma, biotech, academic institutions and technology suppliers. This has given me a much more holistic view of drug discovery, for which I am immensely grateful. I've also learned a great deal about scientific publishing."

Larry Walker, Ph.D.
University of Mississippi
University, MS

"Professionally, the stimulating environment and papers dealing with cutting edge advances in technologies was very beneficial for me. Also, building an editorial board team of engaged and effective reviewers really strengthened my professional networks. Personally, being involved with JBS for its first decade or more of growth, with all the challenges and successes, brought lasting friendships that I treasure."

Mark S. Crawford, Ph.D.
Kirkland, WA

"It was stressful for the first few years as it was not clear that the journal would thrive. There was a lot of good work done by submitting authors and reviewing editors that made the journal a success in those early years."

Meet the members of the JBS Editorial Board

Journal of Laboratory Automation

Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D.
National University of Singapore

"Being an editor for JALA has definitely had a major impact on me professionally. Being an editor has influenced the way I prepare manuscripts of my own research and improved the way my group puts together data into a publishable story. By thinking about how I would like to see good manuscripts presented in JALA translated into a better understanding of how our own research could be formulated and presented in the best way."

Dean Ho, Ph.D.
University of California
Los Angeles, CA

"Watching each issue take shape is a culmination of many moving parts that many people work very hard to achieve – authors and reviewers, guest editors, publishing team, marketing team, cover designers, SLAS professional team, online services team and many others. This process has taught me much about teamwork and coming together with people scattered all over the world toward a unifying goal of developing a resource that benefits such a wide range of disciplines. This is mirrored in the research studies that my lab and collaborators work on and the JALA experience has made my own research program much more efficient because the collaborative research experience also involves the large-scale coordination of postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, collaborators from multiple disciplines, project meetings, manuscript preparation, and so many other elements that serve as the foundation for a successful research program."

Douglas Gurevitch, P.E.
University of California
San Diego, CA

Mark F. Russo, Ph.D.
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Hopewell, NJ

"Serving as the executive editor for any quality journal is a demanding job that requires the investment of significant time and energy. But, when that investment bears fruit, like it did with JALA, it has a lasting impact on you. It breeds a kind of personal pride that is hard to obtain in any other way."

Robin A. Felder, Ph.D.
The University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

"Being the founding editor allowed me to see the latest developments in the field long before the rest of our reading public, particularly since the Internet wasn't as prevalent at that time. In addition, I was able to make the acquaintance of emerging new contributors in the field."

Meet the members of the JALA Editorial Board

Volunteer Opportunities

At SLAS, volunteering and opportunity go together like science and technology. When members invest their time, they don't just grow the industry – they grow their professional networks like never before. Click here to sign up as an available volunteer.

Five Reasons to Visit JALA and JBS Online Today

JALA Online and JBS Online play an integral role in the advancement of science, providing an essential way for researchers to navigate the ever-increasing volume of peer-reviewed screening and automation information and data. All members of the SLAS Biomolecular Sciences Section (BSS) have instant access to JBS Online. Members of the SLAS Laboratory Automation Section (LAS) have instant access to JALA Online. SLAS members visit these rich resources regularly to:

1. Find answers, ideas and inspiration by searching the scientific archives of JALA, JBS and other SAGE journals with keywords and author names. Save searches and/or sign up to receive custom search alerts via e-mail.

2. Sign up for citation tracking alerts.

3. Sign up to be alerted when new reports publish online ahead-of-print.

4. See what's trending in the Most Read and Most Cited monitors (located at the bottom/right on the homepages).

5. Get to know the people behind the science by listening to JALA Podcasts, friendly and informal conversations with the authors whose work is featured on the front covers of JALA.

January 23, 2015