Core facilities moving towards smart research partnerships

9 December 2016
Science and technology are becoming increasingly intertwined. Without high-tech infrastructure, many breakthroughs in life sciences wouldn’t be possible. But due to the rapid pace of technological advance, individual researchers can no longer master the whole panoply of techniques. Moreover, research institutes cannot afford to acquire every single technology. We answer to this call for more efficiency by centralizing expertise and equipment in core facilities – a process that VIB set in motion internally already a while ago, and that we are gradually expanding beyond our institute’s walls.

Our own 9 core facilities provide support in a wide array of omics fields and house specialized scientific equipment and services for each discipline. Since 2012, we have stretched our access to expertise and
resources internationally through Core for Life, an alliance of VIB and 5 other renowned European life science institutes: EMBL (Germany), VBCF (Austria), CRG (Spain), FGCZ (Switzerland) and MPI-CBG (Germany).

Sharing resources: a prerequisite for scientific leaps
The July issue of EMBO reports featured a paper on institutional core facilities, written by Geert Van Minnebruggen (Head of Core Facilities at VIB) and his five peers of the other Core for Life institutes. The authors advocate the core facility concept by highlighting their strategic needs, operational benefits and future collaboration models.

Geert, how do the 6 Core for Life partners collaborate in terms of technology?
Geert: “On a regular basis, technology experts working at the local core facilities come together and discuss
promising new technological developments. They then investigate the potential advantages of making a group purchase and pooling the technology. Sometimes, only one core facility buys the new tool, after which the other institutes know where to go when they lack the technology for their research project. For example, VIB is Core of Life’s leading partner in Nanobody generation, which means we possess the most know-how and  equipment in this domain.”

Are expertise or research protocols being exchanged as well?
Geert: “Yes, we also talk about new cooperation strategies and organize technology workshops. If one of our partner institutes has acquired a new tool or adopted a new protocol, our people travel over there to
master the technique – and the other way around. Another important interaction lies in benchmarking. In the field of proteomics, for example, all Core for Life members verify test samples on a regular basis in order to ensure consistent data quality levels. This also acts as a sort of quality label for research carried out by VIB or a partner institute, enabling us to underline our professionalism to industry partners, thus strengthening private-public partnerships.”

Can you give us a glimpse of the future of core facilities?
Geert: “At VIB, we are currently setting up a 10th core facility in the domain of metabolomics, an emerging field that holds great promise for precision medicine. We have also recently joined forces with Genomics Core at UZ Leuven and we are joining a cancer research consortium at Ghent University. Companies will also become crucial partners to establish common platforms in the forms of joint ventures, spinoffs or ad hoc collaborations. And because we at VIB are convinced that technology will be the engine that propels science forward, we want to be in the vanguard of what I like to call ‘smart partnerships’.”

Meder et al., Embo Reports 2016