Q&A with Health Sciences Core Facilities co-chairs Terry Deak and Susan Bane
BingUNews recently sat down with the co-chairs of the Health Sciences Core Facilities support, combined with the Brain and Body Imaging Center initiative, which is one of the four Road Map Renewal University Initiatives. Here’s an update of the initiative’s status:
Health Sciences Core Facilities support, combined with the Brain and Body Imaging Center
Our expanding research and education activities in health sciences have increased the demand for modern and advanced instrumentation. These facilities will enhance our ability to attract external funding as well as build research partnerships with industry and other universities.
Co-chairs: Terry Deak, professor of psychology, and Susan Bane, professor of biochemistry
Project manager: Mary Beth Curtin, assistant vice president for strategic research initiatives
Why is this initiative important?
Terry Deak: As we grow the health sciences at Binghamton University, the relative cost of equipment and instrumentation and the needs for technology to support health sciences research grow greater and greater. We’re trying to streamline functions and operations of high-end health sciences research by establishing facilities to open up capabilities for researchers across disciplines and departments. In fact, the imaging facility, originally designed as an institute for neuroimaging, has been broadened to include other faculty and because in the future, the Decker School of Nursing is expected to move into physical and occupational therapy with an imaging component as well. In addition, the division between psychology and neuroscience is getting smaller and smaller as time goes on, and brain imaging is a critical component of integrating psychological and brain science.
Susan Bane: One of the things we’ve been talking about for a long time is the need for instrumentation. Biomedical sciences is hugely instrumentation dependent these days. The idea is to have centrally located instrumentation that you need for your research, but that is unaffordable otherwise. These instruments are meant to be shared. And if we have access to this instrumentation, that will be a very positive thing for grant proposals. We are a serious research institution and the core facility shows that we have the instrumentation to do the high-level work people are proposing, such as live tissue work. Funders can look at our proposals and see – of course they can do what they’re proposing.
TD: This is something that certainly Harpur College has been ready for, but with the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the upcoming expansion for the Decker School of Nursing, this is a timely issue for the University. But the much bigger issue is how do we provide access to the leading-edge technology for our students and deeply imbue imagining into the training model to help them determine how to advance scientific questions. It’s not only a research and grant issue. It’s about how we create a scientific environment where faculty and students have access to the best equipment to answer the burning questions in their minds. What this can do is open up research possibilities that should be amazing. Because we tend to work in a resource-lean environment, streamlining equipment acquisitions through use of shared resources is essential.
SB: Because we have a critical mass of people who recognize this as being important and we have funding now through the Road Map for setting up a facility with basic equipment for lab work and appropriate space for shared instrumentation. The facility is designed to have space for wet work –microbiology and cell biology labs – in addition to the instruments. The wet labs have two purposes. One is to have the environment for preparing your samples for the shared instruments. Many of us work with living cells and tissues, and moving them distances stresses them and affects results. The other is to have space for collaborative projects, especially for pilot projects to determine if the project is worth pursuing before applying for funding. Preliminary results are very important in grant proposals and the wet labs will give researchers an opportunity to generate data in order to apply for grants for multidisciplinary projects.
Where will this facility be located?
TD: We have several things going on in the Center of Excellence (COE) dedicated as the main Health Sciences Core Facility where high-end equipment will be centralized. We also need smaller, satellite core facilities to be distributed in other areas of campus for more day-to-day access to equipment. For instance, the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS) will its own core facility at the Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City to serve the needs of SOPPS faculty. We will need to have another satellite core facility located in the science building complex on the main campus as well.
SB: We also have satellite facilities that we are trying to organize around. What we’re doing now is gathering information on what we do have on campus and how we access it.
For example, biological sciences has a core facility with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine used to create copies of a DNA sequence and smaller, specialized instrumentation. The Chemistry Department has shared equipment recently purchased from Shimadzu in a suite in the new Smart Energy Building.
What is the current status of the initiative?
TD: We’re working on building a searchable database that’s broadly inclusive of all health sciences equipment on campus – who has it, where is it located, what condition is it in and what is the potential for access to use it? The first step is knowing what we already have and making it accessible through an accessible and searchable website. The next step is determining what is needed on campus and where can we build out technical capabilities that will advance the work of many investigators. We want to be strategic about what we build on this campus and consider carefully what we outsource to companies, as some capabilities are better off being conducted elsewhere. We have to be really strategic about investments in high-end equipment because all equipment has a life cycle and the technology is changing rapidly. We hope to have the database and website up by the end of the spring semester.
SB: We’ve recently hired a PhD scientist to run the new Health Sciences core facility. The COE space is undergoing renovation to make it suitable for the instruments we have and those we’re trying to acquire. The equipment for the facility is expensive and funds for them need to be obtained from external sources. For example, a group of faculty researchers just submitted a proposal to purchase a specialized transmission electron microscope (TEM). Although a TEM already exists in the Analytical and Diagnostics Laboratory on campus, it is not suitable for biological samples. Researchers from schools including Harpur, Watson and the new School of Pharmacy contributed to the proposal and are excited about having such an instrument on campus.