Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts highlighting Shared Resources available at Sanford-Burnham. Future posts will further explore some of the individual capabilities found in these core facilities.
Suppose you’re a new assistant professor just starting your career at Sanford-Burnham, and you need to perform some high-resolution fluorescence microscopy to finish your first big paper as a principal investigator. How do you afford that $400,000 confocal microscope for the key experiments? For that matter, how does anyone afford a $400,000 microscope? Here’s where Shared Resources saves the day. Just down the stairway sits the Zeiss Laser Scanning Confocal Microscope that Sanford-Burnham’s Cell Imaging facility has thoughtfully provided for you. How did you get so lucky?
Basically, you got lucky because Sanford-Burnham recognized from the start that investigators would need Institute help in having access to state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities that no individual lab could afford. In the early days of the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation, president and founder Dr. William Fishman made a commitment to establishing an infrastructure that allowed this type of support. His success in gaining designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center was critical in giving the Institute the ability to compete for funding from the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) program. Among many other important functions, this money allows the Institute to purchase and maintain expensive instrumentation and to subsidize the operation of its various Shared Resources. So while investigators pay for using the services, the rates are made affordable by the CCSG subsidy. Subsequent Institute presidents, Drs. Erkki Ruoslahti, John Reed, and Kristiina Vuori, have all been staunch supporters of the Shared Resources concept and of our Cancer Center designation. As a result, Sanford-Burnham has been able to maintain its Cancer Center designation and the associated CCSG funding for 30 years now.
Actually, the word “maintain” does not do justice to the expansion of CCSG funding that has actually occurred. The most recent renewal of our CCSG funding in 2010, overseen by Institute President and Cancer Center Director Dr. Kristiina Vuori, brings in $4,000,000 annually, about half of which supports the Shared Resource operations. The steady increase in CCSG support over the years has enabled Sanford-Burnham to consistently expand its range of Shared Resources, says Dr. Craig Hauser.
Having been at the Institute since 1989, initially as an independent investigator and now as vice president of Scientific Resources, Dr. Hauser knows firsthand how important these facilities are to the success of Sanford-Burnham researchers. “Besides the obvious benefits provided by access to the instrumentation itself, there are two other unique features of our service cores,” says Dr. Hauser. “First, the cores are managed in most cases by Ph.D.-level scientists who are experts in their respective fields. These experts help investigators to design and interpret their experiments, allowing use of the complex, centralized resources at the highest level of sophistication. Second, the cores can be utilized both as service and training facilities. In other words, you can hire the core to run your experiment, but you can also hire the core to train you and your lab members how to use the technology. Especially for graduate and postdoctoral students, these experiences are invaluable additions to the training they receive in their own labs.”
More recently, additional support for our Shared Resource system has come from other key sources, including the La Jolla Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Cores grant and funds from the state of Florida, the latter enabling the launch of several complementary cores at Sanford-Burnham’s Lake Nona campus. Overall, the Shared Resources are grouped into seven types of services, including Animal Resources, Cell Analysis and Histopathology, Structural Biology, Genomics Technologies, Proteomics and Metabolomics, Bioinformatics, and Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery. In turn, each of these services is divided into as many as four discrete cores, providing more than 30 types of facilities for Institute investigators.
In future posts on this site, we’ll explore the capabilities of some of these core services, providing insight into the high-tech world of modern biomedical research.