Ensuring a future-proof blend of technology and expertise at VIB

17 December 2018
“We can all agree that science and technology are interconnected,” asserts Geert Van Minnebruggen, head of the Science & Technology Unit, including the Core Facilities program, at VIB. “It’s impossible to arrive at ground-breaking discoveries without access to the cutting edge.” That’s exactly what the Core Facility, Tech Watch and Innovation Lab programs aim to facilitate.

How does VIB ensure access to key tech, and does ‘tech turnover’ impact scientists?
Geert: “VIB prioritizes the availability of highperforming, cutting-edge infrastructure that covers all life sciences disciplines, from disease pathways to genome insights. The Core Facilities program has stable, highly developed, performant tech that it offers for a fee to internal PIs as well as external research groups and companies.

“In addition, we’ve been running Tech Watch since 2008 – a vehicle used to scout for new technologies and bring them into the VIB environment. This has been extremely successful. However, learning how to use and apply brand-new, undeveloped, precommercial tech can indeed pose challenges for scientists.”

On that note, how does VIB promote ‘technological literacy’?
Geert: “That’s where the Technology Innovation Lab comes in: it links the VIB Core Facilities and Tech Watch innovations, and ensures that the tech and the literacy are refined as effectively as possible. Since 2017, the Technology Innovation Lab employs dedicated, creative scientists to de-risk new technologies being tested under the Tech Watch program and develop them to the point where other VIB groups can be trained in their use. The successful implementation of 10xGenomics, used for single-cell sequencing, is a great example of the
Innovation Lab in action.”

There’s also Core for Life – how does this special Core facility alliance help bring new tech to VIB?
Geert: “This concept was born back in 2012 when I saw how expensive and knowledgeintensive it is to train and retrain staff to keep up with tech turnover. It’s difficult – and infeasible – to take care of all of this training within the walls of a single institute. Competitors can be powerful collaborators – and plenty of other
life sciences institutes in the EU have core facility programs centered around different technologies.”

“Through Core for Life, VIB scientists can team up with other core facilities in Europe. In addition to the VIB Cores we have here at VIB, our PIs have 8 external core partners that they can work with cutting-edge cores of 8 European top institutes to share samples, discuss new technologies, exchange services and receive training. We can send our staff to environments where new platforms are already operational, accelerating the learning curve – and it happens in both directions.”

What’s your vision on the future of technology training at VIB?
Geert: “The Core Facilities we have today don’t cover the same disciplines as they did a few years ago – we might switch disciplines if, for example, it’s cheaper to outsource a service, or if a vital new tech emerges. In light of this, we’re currently developing a format where, under the umbrella of Core for Life, core Facility heads can receive indepth training in new disciplines.”

“Even more, a user-based, open-access model for core facilities will become more important, as will innovation. We need to get heavily involved in the innovative development of the scientific technologies of tomorrow to stay at the forefront of our field.”

Go back to the overview  'Talent pool for young researchers'​

Geert Van Minnebruggen​
©VIB-Ine Dehanschutter