An integrated technology ecosystem that comes to fruition at VIB

18 March 2019
VIB is active in several life science disciplines, associated in several centers. Though, rather than operating independently, the various centers, labs and cores act together in an ecosystem built upon advanced technology integration.

The impact of joining forces shouldn’t be under-estimated, as Geert Van Minnebruggen (Head of the Science & Technology Unit, including the Core Facility Program), Stefaan Derveaux (VIB Nucleomics Core) and Gert Van Isterdael (VIB Flow Core, Ghent) agree. The three experts resolutely put their weight behind the technology ecosystem that crosses VIB borders.

VIB has gained a reputation as a unique technology ecosystem on the European continent. How did this happen?
Geert: “The ecosystem was built in several stages. In 2000, we set up our first core to provide VIB research groups with centralized technology platforms. Since then cores were incubated in VIB campuses in Ghent, Leuven, Brussels and Antwerp, allowing automatic exchange of technological know-how between labs and these newly built cores.”

Stefaan: “In 2008, the VIB Tech Watch program came into the picture. This unique program aims to scout and introduce emerging technologies that are possibly applicable for the VIB research community. On a daily base the team analyzes a dozen of promising biotech innovations.”

Geert: “The Technology Innovation Lab, which Tech Watch rolled out in 2017, de-risks these emerging techniques, makes them more mature, and facilitates their smooth integration into labs and cores. In doing so, the Innovation Lab ensures that our core facilities only offer reliable technology services to the scientific community. Clearly, the Innovation Lab constitutes the missing link between Tech Watch and VIB core facilities and, as such, boosts the technology ecosystem.”

Rumor has it that the impact of the VIB ecosystem is particularly visible in the field of single-cell technology. Why’s that?
Gert: “Single-cell technology stands at the crossroads of several disciplines represented at VIB. This is only natural, since research in this field requires diversified expertise. This isn’t ignored by the current cores. In order to offer an efficient and qualitative service in this exciting new field, multiple cores join forces to build a kind of virtual single-cell technology platform, while at the same time each core maintains its own identity. Although this is very challenging, it is worth the effort as our users are able to address a single point of contact for their single-cell project.”

Stefaan: “So, in a way, this new hub marks the start of a profound collaborative effort between the VIB cores. As we expect future technologies to demand more and more expertise in multiple fields, we will spend ever more effort on bringing knowledge from our cores together in an integrated fashion. The future will tell us whether we should re-orient, integrate existing cores, or build new ones acting in such fields as single-cell technology.”

Is there any possibility for the external community to contribute to this ecosystem?
Geert: “Sure. For pharma and biotech companies, for example, it is also important to keep up with technological innovations. But they often lack time and/or expertise to discover and test them, so they connect with us for de-risking and accessing new technologies. Their strategic discussion to team up with us also makes them part of the ecosystem.”

Gert: “In return, through service agreements, they partly finance the installment and maintenance of our infrastructure, which is – generally speaking – very expensive. Also, collaborations of this type make it possible for us to significantly decrease our costs per experiment.”

How do you make sure that the technology ecosystem at VIB develops in the right way?
Geert: “Every five years, VIB cores are evaluated by a panel of international experts. As a matter of fact, our last assessment led to our current attempts to better integrate the different cores.”

Gert: “Of course, this evaluation is an important stimulus for us. But the dynamic work environment at VIB also plays an essential role, since it allows for effective interaction and collaboration between researchers and facility heads. This, in turn, results in an enthusiastic and ambitious workforce, which makes a real difference.”


Go back to the overview : 'Your Research, Our Technology'​​

Gert Van Isterdael  ©VIB_IneDehandschutter

Stefaan Dervaux©VIB_IneDehandschutter