How many ion channel scientists are there?

BY      |     February 25, 2020

Hi there!

When starting, obviously, I was thinking about the audience. Who’s it for? Who will be reading all that stuff? Who can benefit from it? I was also wondering how big the ion channel community is. How many ion channel scientists, labs, companies are there in the world?

Let’s try to get a quick rough estimate first. From the UNESCO Science Report, we know that researchers account for about 0.1% of the global population.

Given that the world population was estimated to be about 7.7 billion people in 2019, we now have about 7.7 million scientists in the world. Further, several estimates point to around 2 million scientific articles published each year. Thus, what we have is 7.7 million scientists publish 2 million articles per year. What we also know is that out of 2 million articles published each year, about 10000 are related to ion channels (see here). If we assume that scientists are uniformly distributed across different disciplines, we can get a rough estimate of the number of ion channel scientists in the world:

N = 7.7 million scientists * 10000 articles / 2 million articles =
38500 ion channel scientists

Now, let’s try to get an estimate from the Pubmed. The search for “ion channel[MeSH Terms]” gives us 237897 articles with a total of 1185127 author names (as of 14/02/2020). To get the number of scientists co-authored all these articles I removed all duplicate names and got 321921 unique author names. Thus, a total of 321921 scientists have published 237897 ion channel-related articles since the 1950s. If we build a graph showing the number of unique authors by year, we’ll get this:

ion channel authors by year

We see that, at present, about 35000-39000 scientists publish ion channel-related articles each year. By the way, it fits well with our previous estimate of 38500 scientists. But, are all these scientists actually focused on ion channel research? Certainly not. Many ion channel-related publications were done in collaboration with scientists who do not normally deal with ion channels but possess some skills/knowledge/facilities needed by ion channel researchers. So, how can we discriminate between these two groups of scientists when all of them are authors of ion channel-related publications?

One way of doing this is to compare the productivity (in the ion channel field) of every author over a particular period. If a scientist published, let’s say, one ion channel-related article in 5 years, there is a big chance that this scientist (especially if he’s a group leader) primarily focuses on a subject other than ion channels. So, let’s do some analysis of the productivity of the authors of ion channel-related articles over the last 5 years.

What we have is:

114437 scientists co-authored at least one ion channel-related paper since 2015.

Out of them:

78230 – published 1 paper in 5 years.

36207 – published 2 or more papers in 5 years.

24900 – published at least 1 paper as a first author.

19360 – published at least 1 paper as the last author.

Let’s take a closer look at the last authors. Out of 19360 last authors, 13141 published 1 ion channel-related paper in 5 years and about 1300 – at least 1 paper per year. If we assume that every repeatedly publishing “last author” is actually an ion channel laboratory/group leader, then it appears that we now have around 1300 ion channel-focused labs/groups in the world. Assuming that the average lab counts 5-10 scientists, we get 6500-13000 ion channel scientists in repeatedly publishing labs. It’s much less than our first estimate of 38500 scientists.

Now, what about companies? At present, we have about 130 companies (biotech, pharma, screening providers and equipment manufacturers) listed on (see here). For sure, this list is not complete and is continuously growing. For our purposes, let’s assume that 200 companies deal with ion channels nowadays. Let’s also assume that on average 10 employees are involved in ion channel-related projects in each of these companies. It gives us another 2000 ion channel professionals. 

Combining all these people together, we get around 8500 to 15000 people actively involved in ion channel research and drug development nowadays.

Does this estimate sound real to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

See you soon.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

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