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Collaborations Between Investigators and UMSOM Cores Are Leading to Scientific Achievement and Helping PI’s to Get the Most from Their Research Funds

December 04, 2017

In today's scientific funding climate, effective management of grant funds is vital to the success of every research program. Simply put, researchers need to get more bang from fewer bucks. Increasingly, investigators at the UMSOM, as well as nationally, are leveraging shared core facilities not only to get the most out of their research dollars, but also to take advantage of the cutting-edge instrumentation, services, and expertise of Core Facility Directors and staff of the UMSOM's Center for Innovative Biomedical Resources (CIBR). Researchers report that utilizing these core resources is a critical component of publishing in top-tier journals, submitting successful grant applications, and well-designed clinical trials.

CIBR's portfolio is significant, approximately 30 cores which include Animal Models, Bioinformatics & Statistics, Clinical Resources, Cytometrics & Bioassays, Drug Development, Imaging, Nucleic Acids & Genomics, and Structural Biology. Most UMSOM investigators are aware of the stateof- the-art instrumentation and services available to support their research. However, it is access to the specialized knowledge and problem-solving skills of experienced staff scientists, whose primary mission is serving as able extensions of each investigators' lab, that is perhaps the greatest advantage that the Cores provide. CIBR Core experts provide critical input into experimental design, selection of methods and techniques, and often assist with post-experiment analysis. CIBR also offers training for graduate and medical students, postdoctoral fellows, medical fellows, and faculty, so they can use equipment at discounted rates and expand their scientific "toolbox" with new techniques.

"I never look at CIBR as just a core resource," said Ashkan Emadi, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Director for Clinical Research, Program Director of the Hematology-Medical Oncology Fellowship Program. "They are, in every sense of the word, authors, collaborators, and colleagues."

In particular, researchers point to the senior-level experience and intellectual input they receive from Core Directors.

"You get a certain cross-fertilization from Core Directors," said Søren Bentzen, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health and Director of CIBR's Biostatistics Shared Service. "We can provide access to a network of people who have a lot of experience with various assays and tumor models. For example, when you come to us with a project, we have the depth of experience to work with you to determine the best approach."

One result of these partnerships is a growing list of investigators who point to the Cores associated with CIBR as key contributors to their success.

‌Each year, CIBR contributes to studies published in top journals. A recent example comes from the lab of Feyruz Rassool, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology. Rassool tapped Rena Lapidus, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Translational Laboratory Shared Service (TLSS), to design and perform a series of animal experiments that recently helped Rassool publish the results of a study of a new combination therapy for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in Cancer Cell. The article also relied on statistical analyses performed by Dr. Bentzen and the Biostatistics and Informatics Core. The combination therapy is currently being evaluated in a Phase I clinical trial. "Rena and the Translational Laboratory Core have been absolutely vital in the grants we've received over the last year, as well as the Cancer Cell paper and the clinical trial," said Dr. Rassool. "And Soren's statistical analysis was critical to getting the clinical trial off the ground."

Dr. Lapidus says that her goal is "to try to make each of the investigators who use the TLSS to feel that they are my top priority, because in truth, supporting their research is my top priority."

That approach is paying off in big ways. Dr. Emadi referenced a study where CIBR's Bentzen essentially served as a co-investigator. "For the first time, we were able to report that a drug can deplete the serum glutamine level to an undetectable level. This collaboration resulted in a $600,000 grant."

"Before working with Dr. Bentzen, I went to a few statisticians outside," he continued. "They told me that calculating the probability of what I wanted would require six months of calculation. He did this right away!"

Dr. Emadi added that he never thinks of Dr. Bentzen or Dr. Lapidus as "merely a core service." "Rena and I have published many papers and have two patents together. It is a true partnership. We are all members of the same institution, so we are invested in each other's success. It's not just a fee-forservice; they are really an extension of your lab."

Others related their experience working with outside vendors.

"If you go to an outside company, they will give you exactly what you ask for, and if they don't have it on the shelf, they will try to convince you that you need what they have on the shelf," said Dr. Bentzen. "Our Cores are not interested in selling you something. We are 100 percent invested in every investigator's success. We consider ourselves a part of every UMSOM investigator's team."

Dr. Emadi pointed out how they work with CIBR's cores to train fellows, post-docs, and students as well.

"With one of our projects, I took two of the fellows in the Hematology- Medical Oncology Fellowship Program to the experts at CIBR and this was a tremendous benefit to them," he said. "Our young investigators are able to learn how to interact with scientists and biostatisticians, how to write a manuscript, and how to develop high-quality experimental designs. This is a real advantage for them in landing an academic job."

In one study, Dr. Emadi described being able to conduct a clinical trial that would not have been possible without CIBR. "We started the first cohort with giving patients a very low dose of a drug to see if they could tolerate it," he said. "We have now advanced the drug dose in the second and third cohorts and tomorrow we will be on to cohort number four. And I am just thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to have CIBR to work with me on this."

"The CIBR cores are absolutely central to UMSOM's research mission," said Dean E. Albert Reece. "The counsel they provide to our investigators and the valuable contributions they make to our research — at every level and across departments and centers — is an essential part of our growth as one of the top biomedical research institutions in the nation."

Dr. Bentzen summarized it well: "I think what we CIBR Core Directors are really most proud of is taking the time to work with the investigator to understand what the research question is, whether it is a clinical trial, a data analysis or help with a study design, and we try to be flexible and work together to provide the best possible solution." "And," he added, "it is actually a lot of fun for us both!"

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Center for Innovative Biomedical Resources (CIBR)


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