The modern biomedical landscape is one of rapid change, marked by the seemingly daily emergence of new tools and techniques that promise to transform how scientists interrogate biology and disease.
As a consequence, research core facilities, which provide access to enabling technologies and to the expertise needed to utilize them, play an increasingly integral role in the growth of productive research ecosystems by serving as partners for investigators exploring new areas of inquiry and as links that foster collaboration.
For these reasons, Harvard Medical School has launched the Foundry, an organizing program and principal component of the Therapeutics Initiative, to coordinate and manage Quad-based core facilities under a single umbrella. Its goals are to maintain world-class research facilities at HMS, increase ease of access for community members, reduce inefficiencies and support the basic and translational research mission of the School.
To this end, the Foundry recently awarded 21 grants totaling $11.2 million, which will enhance existing infrastructure and bring new, cutting-edge technologies to the Quad. The award recommendations were made jointly by the Foundry Committee and HMS preclinical department chairs.
“Our focus is on ensuring that our research community has ready access to tools and expertise to help them continue to produce high quality, rigorous, reproducible science,” said Caroline Shamu, associate dean for research cores and technology and director of the HMS Foundry.
“As gateways for technologies that might be too resource-intensive for a single lab, department or even institution to support on their own, centralized cores are one of the most efficient means to achieve this,” Shamu said.
Sum of its parts
This was highlighted in the projects that received Foundry funding, which span a wide range of research areas, such as a new initiative in biomedical computer vision, led by associate professor Sean Megason and assistant professor Sahand Hormoz, both in the Department of Systems Biology. This initiative aims to help shape the future of bioimaging research by solving central problems in quantitative image analysis through machine learning and computer vision.
As another example, the Foundry is supporting an effort to develop high-complexity synthetic antibody libraries, which have the potential to become among the largest fully sequenced libraries in existence. This project, led by Stephen Elledge, the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine at HMS and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will enable researchers to isolate high-affinity and specific antibodies for research, diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
Of the 21 Foundry grants, seven support the development of new technologies and cores:
- High Complexity, Fully Sequenced, Synthetic Antibody Libraries
(PI: Stephen Elledge)
- Metabolomics and Education Center
(PI: Marcia Haigis and Sloan Devlin)
- Gnotobiotic Core Animal Facility
(PI: Dennis Kasper)
- Initiative in Biomedical Computer Vision
(PI: Sean Megason and Sahand Hormoz)
- Center for Organism Design
(PI: Pamela Silver)
- On-chip Sort
(PI: Clifford Tabin)
- Connectomics Core
(PI: Rachel Wilson)
The remaining grants enhance and expand existing research core facilities:
- Yeast Display Antibody Fragment Platform
(Core: Center for Macromolecular Interactions, PI: Kelly Arnett)
- Protein Quality Platform
(Core: Center for Macromolecular Interactions, PI: Kelly Arnett)
- Spectral Deconvolution Flow Cytometry
(Core: Immunology Flow Cytometry Facility, PI: Christophe Benoist)
- Conventional Electron Microscopy Facility
(PI: Maria Ericsson)
- Bioinformatics Analysis and Training
(Core: Harvard Chan Bioinformatics Core, PI: Shannan Ho Sui)
- Research Instrumentation Core Facility
(PI: Ofer Mazor)
- Neurobiology Imaging Facility
(PI: Michelle Ocana)
- Functional Genomics Screening and Bioinformatics
(Core: Drosophila RNAi Screening Center and Transgenic RNAi Project, PIs: Norbert Perrimon and Stephanie Mohr)
- BioGrids Software Consortium
(Core: BioGrids/SBGrid, PI: Piotr Sliz)
- SBGrid Structure-based Discovery Accelerator
(Core: SBGrid, PI: Piotr Sliz)
- ICCB-Longwood Screening Facility
(PI: Jennifer Smith)
- Nikon Imaging Center at HMS
(PI: Jennifer Waters)
Emphasizing the collaborative nature of core facilities, several of the awards included collaborators from across the Harvard community, including the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and HMS-affiliated hospitals.
“The Foundry, and core facilities in general, are a great opportunity for collaboration across the HMS campus, as well as with our affiliated hospitals and institutions,” said David Hwang, chief research operations officer at HMS.
“Shared infrastructure goes a long way toward enabling world-class research, and by having these strong cores available to everyone in the community, the sum is greater than its parts,” Hwang added.
More than access
In this spirit, hundreds of HMS community members gathered at the New Research Building rotunda in November to socialize, network and discuss the latest in research core offerings at the 2019 HMS Research Cores Poster Showcase which, for the first time, was formally supported by the Foundry.
At the showcase, representatives from a total of 44 facilities from across the Quad, including several based at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Chan School, presented posters on their technologies and services, from bioinformatics and single-cell sequencing to mass spectrometry and a wide array of imaging and microscopy services.
But HMS core facilities provide much more than access to technologies, Shamu emphasized.
“Harvard cores aren’t simply a place where you hand over a sample and get some data back,” she said. “They’re staffed and managed by scientists who are world leaders in methods development, have expertise in their respective fields and can provide support for training and education, experimental design, data analysis and more.”
In addition to the current cohort of core facilities, the Foundry is actively engaged in helping connect researchers with resources that might not be present on the Quad, as well as monitoring emerging technologies for possible investment, particularly those developed by HMS researchers, such as single-cell sequencing.
The Foundry represents a primary piece of the recently launched Therapeutics Initiative, which aims to maximize the impact of the basic science discoveries emerging from the HMS research community by supporting and advancing translational opportunities.
Through its oversight of HMS core facilities, the Foundry will support projects engendered by the initiative and help promote a collaborative and entrepreneurial culture that builds on the Harvard community’s strengths in fundamental biology research, its unparalleled network of affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutions and its partnerships and connections with the Greater Boston biopharma and finance communities.
The Foundry will work closely with the other components of the initiative, and in particular with Mark Namchuk, who joins HMS as executive director of therapeutics translation in January.
“We’ve spent several years planning and designing the Therapeutics Initiative, and are now at the implementation stage and making major investments, such as the $11 million in awards through the Foundry,” said David Golan, dean for research operations and global programs and the HMS George R. Minot Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s.
“Our goal is to create a research environment in which the HMS community is supported with the resources and infrastructure it needs to move basic and translational research ideas forward in more effective, creative and impactful ways,” Golan added.
“These investments are not a one-off. We are moving forward together,” he said.
Images: Sarah Storrer