How one SickKids core facility is breaking down the barriers to scientific collaboration
On the topmost floor of the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, scientists at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) lean keenly over work benches in the Structural & Biophysical Core Facility as they conduct research on a variety of state-of-the-art instruments, from large-scale association and particle analysis to molecular interaction characterization.
In stark contrast to the traditional image of a dark basement laboratory, light pours in from the large windows that frame the room, illuminating workstations that are neatly arranged with exclusive research support equipment. At the SBC Facility, new scientific advances are happening in an open, collaborative space where researchers of varying fields and levels of experience can share their ideas and learn from one another.
Greg Wasney, Manager of the SBC Facility, joined SickKids in 2015 to manage two sets of research instruments from different labs in the Molecular Medicine program. In the first year of operation, Wasney added seven more instruments to the facility through various funding applications and brought them together in one location.
“My philosophy is equipment should be centralized. If you have instruments hidden away, no one uses them,” says Wasney. “I want to transform research programs by bringing new technology and techniques to push science forward, faster.”
Under Wasney’s management and the leadership of facility Co-Directors Dr. Julie Forman-Kay, Head and Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine program, and Dr. Lynne Howell, Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine program, the SBC Facility has grown to include 30 instruments and is the only academic laboratory offering this range of infrastructure and expertise in the Greater Toronto Area.
Supporting innovative research
Beyond the strengths of the individual instruments, the SBC Facility strives to make its equipment accessible to all researchers by providing education and training for each instrument and user.
“By consolidating scientific research instruments under one facility we can ensure systematic access and provide full-time technical and project strategy support for researchers,” Wasney notes.
Wasney and the facility’s research technicians provide formalized training for every user who enters the space, from Senior Scientists to graduate students, and share insights on which equipment is most applicable to different research projects. The team has also developed application notes for each of the instruments, which are also available to review on the SBC Facility website.
Accessed by scientists across the SickKids Research Institute, the SBC Facility is an essential component of SickKids research infrastructure. The Research Institute is home to 14 core facilities, in addition to four clinical research core facilities, that provide members of the internal and external scientific community with the instrumentation, expertise and services needed to enhance the quality of their research. In the past year, the SBC Facility has hosted, consulted for and guided strategies and projects for more than 140 individual facility users and contributed to the publication of 36 manuscripts.
The SBC Facility has also been involved in a number of academic and industry COVID-19 research projects. This includes a study published in 2021 in Nature Communications on the neutralizing antibodies as a promising therapy for SARS-CoV-2 led by Dr. Jean-Philippe Julien, as well as research on the development and validation of rapid COVID-19 detection tests.
Today, there is no other facility like this in all of Canada. New instruments continue to be added based on users’ feedback, their ability to fill technological voids for scientist’s current and future needs, and their potential applicability to a range of research and fields, from biology to engineering. For Wasney, “the future of the facility lies in harnessing the flexibility of current and future instruments and in developing new and innovative techniques to support the future of research at SickKids.”
Want to know if an instrument fits your needs? Get in touch with SBC Facility.
The SBC Facility and its instrumentation specializing in biophysical methods for investigating biomolecular structure, dynamics, stability, and interactions, is available for internal and external academic researchers, as well as industry partners, with a variety of payment and access structures based on the user type and equipment needed. Visit the SBC Facility website for user access and pricing details.