How can core facilities better connect with the researchers who need them?

April 29, 2012 | Posted by Team in Outsourcing Trends |

The following article appeared in the “Solutions” section of the 2012 ABRF Communications magazine, distributed that the 2012 ABRF conference in Orlando, FL.  

A View from the Core

When Dr. Todd Waldman MD PhD, made his ground-breaking discovery into the genetic basis for glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain tumors, he did so through the help of core facilities. GBM is the most common and deadly form of primary brain tumor; it was infamously responsible for the death of Senator Edward Kennedy in 2009. Dr. Waldman’s molecular oncology group at Georgetown University discovered that multiple GBM cell lines have mutations in the STAG2 gene, which cause chromosomal instability during cell division. To explore the clinical relevance of his findings, Dr. Waldman turned to the Lombardi Cancer Center Histopathology and Tissue Shared Resource (HTSR). The HTSR stained multiple tissue microarrays containing primary GBM and Ewing’s carcinoma samples for STAG2, and confirmed that the protein was indeed missing in many primary tumors. These results were a critical component of the paper published by Waldman and colleagues in Science last year. (Learn more about how the HTSR helped Dr. Waldman and his colleagues here).

Projects like Dr. Waldman’s are at the heart of a core facility’s mission, namely to provide investigators with the specialized resources and expertise they need to produce the best possible scientific output. As a primary resource for human patient tissues and histopathology expertise, the core was able to give the study its translational focus, demonstrating the clinical significance of Dr. Waldman’s findings. HTSR has a highly skilled and experienced staff that handles approximately 2000 requests for services each year, providing a degree of expertise and professionalism that would be hard to match by an individual researcher attempting to build up the necessary techniques in their own lab.

And yet, core facilities often remain under-utilized. HTSR Co-Director Dr. Deborah Berry PhD realized that despite internal demand, there were times when the facility was not as busy as it could have been. In short, they had excess capacity that they could be using to fuel translational research beyond the borders of their institute.  Dr. Berry realized that researchers from other institutes could greatly benefit from the resources and expertise she and her colleagues could provide.  But, how could she reach them?

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Guest post: Making the most of peer networking

March 8, 2012 | Posted by Guest in Outsourcing Trends |

This is a guest post by Susanna Perkins, Director of Research Cores & Operations in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at University of Massachusetts Medical School (full bio below). 

Seven years ago, I was hired by the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) to centralize their core facilities management from an operations perspective.  We have 43 core facilities, one of the largest centralized institutional organizations.  Prior to centralization, each was managed from within their home department.  Funding for these facilities flows through the institution, but answering simple questions about how the money was being used was difficult when it involved a dozen different accountants and administrators.  Now that everything is under one organization, we are able to produce quarterly reports that include all the financials, usage, grant support, personnel, etc….  It presents an overview of the entire system, and is also a tool to help us manage across facilities.  For example, if one facility is exceeding revenue projections and will not require as much institutional support, we can offset a less profitable facility with the excess funds.  Centralization allows the institution to utilize our Core funding where it is needed the most – toggling the funding throughout the year as the revenue & expense trends solidify.

I came from the private sector, doing financials for a company producing computer disk drives.  My skillset was an excellent match for this position, which is essentially overseeing the operations of 43 small nonprofit companies.  Because many of the people within core facilities come from a science background, I can assist by bringing business expertise on budgeting, marketing, web sites, and other accounting activities that many science-based Core Directors are more than willing to offload.  This allows the Directors to focus their attention and resources on their technical areas of expertise.

Inevitably, in financially challenging times, my job also entails providing recommendations for the prioritization of funding for facilities.  The Vice Provost for Research makes the difficult decisions, which are weighted by more factors than just profitability numbers, but my work directly informs those decisions.

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Guest post: The rise of contractual conservatism – will it subvert sharing of scientific resources?

March 7, 2012 | Posted by Guest in Outsourcing Trends |

This is a guest post by Stephen Byers, Director of the Lombardi Shared Resources at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University (full bio below). 

As director of shared resources at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and as Director of the Translation Technologies component of the Georgetown/Howard Univerity CTSA, my goal is to provide our researchers with the highest quality experimental resources, at the best possible price.  Sometimes that means adding in a new technology to our core facilities, sometimes it means reaching out to our CTSA network partners, sometimes it means negotiating with another institution altogether.   One reason I attend the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) annual conference is to keep up with cutting edge resources and explore what it makes sense for us expand or introduce as part of our core services and when it makes sense for us to find partners.

Different core facilities develop specializations, driven both by foresight as well as serendipity.   Georgetown, for example, has invested in an outstanding Metabolomics Shared Resource Program.  We’re finding that, in many cases, high throughput analysis of metabolites in blood or urine with LC-Mass Spectrometry is as good as genomic profiling at segregating outcomes in diseases… and a whole lot cheaper.  We can generate as many as 20-30,000 metabolite data points in an hour at $60/hr for 6 samples.  The real challenge for this field, as for much of post-genomic science, is the informatics that goes into analyzing all this data.  Under the guidance of our metabolomics gurus, Al Fornace and Amrita Cheema, and Medical Informatics Director Subha Madhavan, we are improving our informatics services and finding no shortage of investigators eager to take advantage of this technology.

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Guest post: The things you can learn from sequencing: Microbes, Primates, and Climate Change

March 6, 2012 | Posted by Guest in Innovation Highlight |

This is a guest post by Carl Yeoman, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who will start as Assistant Professor in the Animal and Range Sciences Dept. at Montana State University in August (full bio below). 

At this year’s Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) 2012 conference, I will present the work that my colleagues and I have been doing at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign using both 454 Life Sciences pyrosequencing and Illumina technologies to study the gastrointestinal and vaginal microbial ecosystems of humans and non-human wild primates.

Historically, microbiologists would interrogate these microbial ecosystems under a microscope or by trying to culture them in agar or broth containing nutrients. Microbes, however are extremely heterogeneous in their requirements for optimal growth. In fact, only ~1% of all microbes have been successfully grown in culture. Microbes grow at different rates (slower growing microbes will be outcompeted in non-replenishing culture), have different nutritional requirements and are often dependent upon other co-resident microbes for growth. These factors mean that culture-based analyses are inadequate for surveying microbial ecosystems, while the diversity of microbes in most ecosystems makes microscope-based analyses impossible.

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We’re heading to ABRF 2012!

March 4, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth in Events |

In 10 days, my colleagues and I will pack our bags and head off to Orlando, Florida for the annual meeting of the Association for Biomolecular Resources Facilities (ABRF).   Believing, as we do, that our mission and vision aligns well with the goals of core facilities around the world, we’re excited about the opportunity to share our progress with the broader ABRF community.  In addition to our booth presence (#504), we will be participating in one of the Lunch & Demo Stage Presentations, and we are sponsoring this quarter’s ABRF newsletter, Communications, which will feature an article about Science Exchange in the section titled “Solutions.”

As we started looking through the program and thinking about what we hope to get from the meeting, we realized that the conference is a unique mix of experts with very diverse viewpoints on the practice of science in the 21st century.  We thought it would be informative – and fun! – to ask some of them to share their perspectives, insights and hopes for this year’s meeting on our blog.

Thus, we are pleased to introduce a series of guest blogs from attendees of this year’s ABRF conference that will be posted over the next two weeks.

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