At the University of Chicago, researchers have access to state-of-the-art equipment and technical expertise in our shared research facilities. These cores offer researchers the opportunity to utilize cutting-edge technologies and methodologies without having to support or maintain the equipment themselves. Instead, researchers pay to use these centralized facilities as they need them. Moreover, the costs to use the facilities are heavily subsidized by the Biological Sciences Division (BSD), and the recharge fees are based on recovery of operating expenses. Many of the more than 25 BSD core facilities were established with divisional resources and continue to be underwritten with BSD funds. Between the 2016 and 2020 fiscal years, $19.6M of institutional funds were identified for capital investment in shared research facilities to provide new equipment and technology. This continued investment will ensure that the core facilities continue to be maximally useful to students and faculty alike.
Each core facility is managed by a full-time professional technical director with oversight by a faculty director. The technical director and his/her staff oversee the facility’s day-to-day operation and provide user training. The majority of the BSD cores are administered by the Office of Shared Research Facilities (OSRF), which provides operational management support, highly efficient fiscal management, HR support, grant support, and coordinated strategic planning for the facilities. Between 2016 and 2020, 28.6% of the OSRF and cores operational funding came from divisional support and 9.0% came from Cancer Center support.
Each facility is also served by a faculty oversight committee that addresses user input and requests for development of new services. Moreover, given that our core facilities are only effective if they represent the dynamic needs of our diverse faculty, we rely upon a dedicated group of faculty who constitute the Research Resources Oversight Committee, to help prioritize and advocate for our faculty’s needs. Combined, the oversight structure of the core facilities provides expert supervision and responsiveness to faculty-demanded services and innovations.
Of the core facilities, the most utilized is the Functional Genomics core, which provides advanced instruments and techniques for Next Generation DNA Sequencing, DNA microarrays and Sanger DNA Sequencing. Overseen by Faculty Director Yoav Gilad, PhD, Professor of Medicine, and Technical Directors Pieter Faber, PhD, and William Buikema, PhD, and supported by dedicated, highly trained staff members, this facility was used by over 400 faculty members in the last year.
The highly utilized Cytometry and Antibody Technologies (CAT) facility and the more recently established Human Disease and Immune Discovery (HDID) facility offer state-of-the-art multiparameter flow cytometry instruments, with the HDID core providing support and equipment for faculty performing high-resolution investigations of the immune system using human-derived cells. Together, these facilities provide access to a wide range of specialized equipment for cytometry analysis, including flow cytometers, cell sorters, and imagers. Faculty Director Anne Sperling, PhD, Professor of Medicine, and Technical Director David Leclerc, MS, lead the CAT core, while Faculty Director Bana Jabri, MD, PhD, Sarah and Harold Lincoln Thompson Professor Medicine and Pathology, and Technical Director Cezary Ciszewski, MS, oversee the HDID core.
Another facility offering high-end, state-of-the-art equipment is the Advanced Electron Microscopy (AEM) core. Containing over $16 million in instrumentation, the AEM facility occupies over 5000 square feet of laboratory space across both the Gordon Center for Integrative Sciences and the Franklin McLean Institute. It houses six electron microscopes, including a new cryo-EM-dedicated Titan Krios electron microscope—one of the cornerstones of the facility. The AEM core is led by Facility Director Jotham (Joe) Austin, PhD, Research Assistant Professor in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. The faculty director is Robert Keenan, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
The latest facility to open is the Organoid and Primary Culture Research (OPCR) core, led by Faculty Director Christopher Weber, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology. This exciting new facility allows researchers to grow cell lines of interest in three-dimensional aggregates, or organoids. These systems have the potential to more closely model the morphology and behavior of tissues in vivo, particularly tumors. The OPCR Core facilitates the collection of patient- or model-derived cells, generation of organoids, organoid experiments, and the development of an organoid bank for users.
In addition to providing investigators access to advanced equipment and technical support, some cores also assist researchers with the critical, but often complex, regulations and protocols for collecting and using particular types of data. For example, many BSD researchers across basic and clinical departments utilize medical images of human subjects in their work. In the last year, 76 of these researchers utilized the Human Imaging Research Office (HIRO) facility, which was created with three primary responsibilities: (1) to coordinate image acquisition for clinical research per the study protocol’s imaging guidelines and parameters, (2) to provide reliable and consistent assessment of disease response for clinical research, and (3) to manage and distribute medical imaging exams for research purposes in a compliant manner.So far, the HIRO, led by Faculty Director Samuel Armato III, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiology, and Technical Director Nicholas Gruszauskas, PhD, has fulfilled over 10,000 requests and delivered over 112,000 imaging examinations and reports to investigators.
An important aspect of continuing to develop our core facilities is to appropriately acknowledge their contributions to faculty research. While we know that well over 1000 investigators utilized the cores in the last year, it has been difficult to track the number of publications that relied on a core facility, in part because there has not yet been a unified method of citing the cores. Now, OSRF is beginning to implement Research Resource Identification (RRID) numbers—a novel method developed by the Association of Biomolecular Resources Facilities (ABRF) of uniquely labeling research facilities. These unique identifiers are analogous to the RRIDs already used to identify cell lines in publications. Accurately and consistently citing our research cores will not only enable easy database searching and research replication but will help ensure the cores’ continued funding and support. The BSD is an early adopter of this important effort and we look forward to seeing it used more broadly. A core facility’s RRID may be found on its website.
Altogether, the large and growing set of innovative core facilities have enabled BSD researchers to work more productively and collaboratively, while also providing them with access to many cutting-edge instruments. The centralized systems of support and technology that the cores provide streamline many aspects of research and allow investigators to optimize the use of their funding and efforts. To learn more about each facility, and how you can utilize them for your own lab’s needs, we invite you to visit the Core Facilities site.