CiteAb: a searchable antibody database that ranks antibodies by the number of times they have been cited
© Helsby et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 8 October 2013
Accepted: 29 January 2014
Published: 14 February 2014
Research antibodies are used by thousands of scientists working in diverse disciplines, but it is common to hear concerns about antibody quality. This means that researchers need to carefully choose the antibodies they use to avoid wasting time and money. A well accepted way of selecting a research antibody is to identify one which has been used previously, where the associated data has been peer-reviewed and the results published.
CiteAb is a searchable database which ranks antibodies by the number of times they have been cited. This allows researchers to easily find antibodies that have been used in peer-reviewed publications and the accompanying citations are listed, so users can check the data contained within the publications. This makes CiteAb a useful resource for identifying antibodies for experiments and also for finding information to demonstrate antibody validation. The database currently contains 1,400,000 antibodies which are from 90 suppliers, including 87 commercial companies and 3 academic resources. Associated with these antibodies are 140,000 publications which provide 306,000 antibody citations. In addition to searching, users can also browse through the antibodies and add their own publications to the CiteAb database.
CiteAb provides a new way for researchers to find research antibodies that have been used successfully in peer-reviewed publications. It aims to assist these researchers and will hopefully help promote progress in many areas of life science research.
KeywordsAntibodies Monoclonal Polyclonal Western blotting Flow cytometry Immunohistochemistry ChIP host species Species reactivity Citations
Research antibodies are used by life scientists who work in areas ranging from cell biology to immunology and from neuroscience to cancer research. The sheer scale of their use is illustrated by the fact that the market for commercial research antibodies is estimated to be over $1.6 billion annually . However, there are often complaints from researchers about antibody quality [2–4] and new researchers learn that it is important to find well validated antibodies or risk wasting money and perhaps more importantly, time . The selection of an antibody is complicated by the fact that they are used for a wide variety of applications, including western blotting, flow cytometry, ELISA, immunoprecipitation, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and immunohistochemistry [6–9] and suitability for one application is not a guarantee of good performance with another application. In addition, antibodies are often used against an antigen from a different species to the one that the antibody was raised against: meaning that the amount of cross species reactivity shown by the antibody needs to be considered. Many researchers would agree that the most reliable way of overcoming these issues and identifying a suitable antibody would be to find one that has already been used for the application/species required and the results published in one or more publications.
CiteAb is a searchable antibody database that ranks antibodies by the number of times they have been cited in peer-reviewed journal articles, making it easy to find antibodies that have been successfully used. This approach to finding antibodies has advantages over a Google search, which is dependent on many factors which do not directly relate to antibody quality. For example, the supplier with the best search engine optimisation does not necessarily provide the most suitable antibody. There are existing specialist databases which rank antibodies based on commercial criteria and there are also others which help scientists find independently validated antibodies by collecting user reviews. CiteAb takes an alternative approach and focuses entirely on using peer-reviewed publications as a guide to the level of independent validation. Ranking by citations provides a simple and transparent method of helping researchers find an antibody that has been independently validated for a particular experimental method and/or species of interest. A citation means that the antibody has generated data worthy of publication in a peer-reviewed journal, which in our opinion provides the best guide when selecting an antibody. Having identified a potential antibody of interest, researchers can then link to the listed scientific papers and establish how the antibody has been used and examine the data contained within the publications. In addition to search, the key features of CiteAb include the ability to browse for antibodies of interest and for users to improve the database by adding information on their own publications if they are not already included. This article will provide an overview of the data currently stored in the CiteAb database, the different ways users can interact with it and finally a comparison of the results obtained from a range of different antibody search engines.
Construction and content
CiteAb has a simple database architecture consisting of an entry with associated data fields for each antibody and publication. The antibody pages are searchable and linked to the relevant publication pages (the user workflow is described below). To maximise CiteAb’s utility for researchers as many antibodies as possible are listed and antibodies from any commercial company or academic resource can be included. Current statistics (December 2013) show that CiteAb contains 1,400,000 antibodies from 90 suppliers. These suppliers include 87 commercial companies and 3 academic resources. The academic resources are normally grant funded or non-profit self-funded centres and currently include the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank (DSHB) based at the University of Iowa, NeuroMab based at the University of California Davis and the Zebrafish International Resource Centre (ZIRC) from the University of Oregon, which works closely with the Zebrafish Model Organism Database (ZFIN) . These resources are all currently funded, or were funded, by the National Institute of Health (NIH). For example the DSHB was funded by the NIH, but is now self-funded. More recently we have tried to encourage individual academics to list their antibodies and created a special category ‘academic antibodies (individual labs)’ to facilitate this. For this type of listing we ask that the academic be willing to distribute their antibody on request.
The second data type required to maximise the usefulness of CiteAb is to link as many publications as possible to these antibodies. CiteAb currently (December 2013) contains 140,000 publications, which provide 306,000 antibody citations. Despite the importance of citations, CiteAb does list antibodies which currently lack them. This is because newly released antibodies will not have citations, but are still likely to be of interest to users. In addition having these antibodies listed makes it easier for users to add citation data to them.
Growth of the CiteAb database
Number of antibodies
Number of companies
Number of academic resources
Number of individual academic labs
Number of publications
Number of antibody citations
Trial site launched
Version 1 launched
Addition of extra antibody information fields
Resubmission of the CiteAb paper
Utility and discussion
Searching CiteAb for antibodies
Browsing antibodies in CiteAb
The browsing options do not include an alphabetical list of antibodies because antibody names do not follow a consistent format. For example, a polyclonal goat anti-p53 antibody might be named anti-p53 polyclonal antibody, goat anti-p53 polyclonal antibody, p53 polyclonal antibody or polyclonal anti-p53 antibody. This variation, combined with the large numbers of antibodies in many categories, makes alphabetical browsing potentially misleading and in our opinion of little value.
Users can add their publications to CiteAb
If an antibody used in the publication is not currently listed in CiteAb, then a new antibody can be added to the database. In this case the user is asked for key information regarding the antibody including the supplier of the antibody, antibody name, antibody code number and host species. This allows researchers to add any antibody they have used, including those they have raised in their own laboratories.
We try and encourage our users to add information on their publications as the more researchers that add citations to CiteAb the greater its use will be to the scientific community. Users who add their citations may also benefit as their work can then be accessed by other researchers who are using the site, potentially increasing the impact of their publications.
The ‘About Us’ section (http://www.citeab.com/about) provides users with information regarding how the CiteAb antibody search engine functions, the people who work on the CiteAb database and how to list antibodies. It also has links to a help page, a database statistics page, an acknowledgement page and a page providing further advice on listing antibodies. There is a prominent ‘Contact’ page (http://www.citeab.com/contact) enabling users to ask for additional information if required. CiteAb also has a Blog (blog.citeab.com/) and a newsletter (http://www.citeab.com/newsletter) which are designed to provide information on CiteAb database developments, antibody supplier news and journal/publishing features that may be of interest to users.
A useful source of information regarding antibody validation
CiteAb is designed to help researchers find antibodies for their research. However, it has another use which is as a source of information regarding antibody validation. The Nature Publishing Group have recently introduced a reporting checklist for articles , which highlights the fact that reporting of research antibodies in publications needs to be improved and we have subsequently suggested a standardised format . One of the recommendations from the checklist, and our article, is that authors need to show that the antibodies they use have been properly validated. Antibody validation is a complicated topic [15–19], but one way of demonstrating validation is to cite papers in which the antibody has been previously validated. Another is to cite the antibody page from a database that provides evidence of past use. In both these cases CiteAb can help researchers show antibody validation.
Comparison with the results from other antibody search engines
The task of selecting an antibody is far from straightforward and, as mentioned above, several existing antibody search engines have been developed to help this process. The way search engines rank antibodies falls into three rough categories. Some use a commercial model where suppliers pay to be top ranked while others use user reviews to provide independent validation and a method of ranking. In contrast CiteAb uses citations for independent validation and ranking. A search engine called BioBrea also uses a similar approach and ranks by citations. Search engines may also mix different models by allowing suppliers to pay to be top ranked/highlighted, but rank the remainder of the antibodies by reviews or citations. The different approaches have different advantages and disadvantages. User reviews can provide valuable independent information regarding validation of the antibody, but they can be hard to collect and it may be difficult to assess the validity of the review. Citations are independent and Citeab displays them so users can check the data contained within the papers. However, citations may take time to appear for new antibodies. The paid models allow companies to promote new antibodies which will initially lack citations and reviews but may be the best available product.
Search results from a range of antibody search engines
Antibody search engine
CD4 for flow cytometry
GAPDH for Western blotting
Atlas Antibodies (HPA012947)
Antibody Directory (http://www.antibodydirectory.com)
Cell Sciences (MON2067)
LabFrontier Life Science Institute (LF-PA0006)
Antibody Registry (http://www.antibodyregistry.org)
MBL International (JM-3777-100)
LifeSpan BioSciences (LS-C39280-50)
Antibody Resource (http://www.antibodyresource.com)
Antibody Review (http://www.antibodyreview.com)
LifeSpan Biosciences (LS-C21574)
Creative Biomart (CPBT-53909RH)
Novus Biologicals (NBP1-19371)
Atlas Antibodies (HPA012947)
BD Biosciences (552775)
BD Biosciences (550280)
CiteAb ( http://http://www.citeab.com )
AbD Serotec (MCA1749)
Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SC-25778)
LifeSpan Biosciences (LS-B3426)
Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SC-85907)
Linscott Directory (http://www.linscottsdirectory.com)
BACHEM AMERICAS (T-1364.0100)
Synaptic Systems (247 002)
Santa Cruz Biotechnology (sc-19642)
Our major future goal is to continue to improve the quantity and quality of the antibody and citation data contained within the CiteAb database. In terms of technical improvements, we want to improve the ability of users to browse and filter publications that are associated with an antibody. In the longer term the database is also likely to adapt to accommodate changes in available antibodies, such as increasing numbers of recombinant antibodies and also adding other types of affinity reagents. There is no doubt that there are other improvements that could be made to CiteAb and we would appreciate any suggestions from readers of this article.
The goal of CiteAb is to help researchers succeed by making it easier for them to find the right research antibody for their experiments. It does this by ranking research antibodies by the number of times they have been cited and making it easy for researchers to explore the citations. This database will hopefully save scientists time and money and by doing this help life science research progress more rapidly. Our initial feedback has been that researchers find CiteAb a useful resource and our analytics data shows that we have increasing numbers of repeat visitors. Our aim is to continue to improve CiteAb and make it as valuable to researchers as possible.
Availability and requirements
The CiteAb database can be accessed at http://www.citeab.com. It is freely available for use by academics and non-academics without the need for login or registration.
MAH: immunology graduate. PML: computer scientist. JRF: molecular cell biology graduate. TG: cell biology PhD student. CB: cell biology PhD student. GD: cell biology PhD student. BS: cell biology PhD student. PW: senior lecture in cell biology. CJC: lecturer in cell biology. KJ: digital communications expert. ADP: computer scientist. DHK: digital technology expert. ADC: lecturer in cell and developmental biology.
Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank
National Institute of Health
Zebrafish Model Organism Database
Zebrafish International Resource Centre.
We want to thank everybody at the University of Bath who has provided support and advice during the setting up of CiteAb. In particular, we would like to thank members of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry and the Research Development and Support Office. We also want to thank all the other members of Storm Consultancy who contributed to the project, particularly Andrew Hunter for his design work.
This work was supported by the University of Bath Research Development and Support Office [Knowledge Transfer Champion and HEIF Funding #HIF36 Chalmers], Medical Research Council [PhD studentship number to G.D. (EB-PA1063)], Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [PhD studentship to C.B. (EB-BB1079)], Annett Trust [PhD studentship to B.S. (EA-BB1111)] and Turkish Government [PhD studentship to T.G. (EA-BB1099)]. These funders had no role in the design, in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; and in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
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