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The first annual Northeast Regional Life Science Core Directors (NERLSCD) meeting was held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, November 9–10, 2006. The goal of this conference was to provide an opportunity for networking among life science core directors and managers. The meeting provided an opportunity for core directors to interact with colleagues, share technical advice, and discuss the continuing challenges associated with the operation of shared research resources and technologies.
This regional networking meeting for life sciences core facility directors may serve as an example for the organization, funding, structure, and content of regional meetings for core facility directors in other regions of the United States and in other countries. The purpose of this meeting was not to duplicate or compete with national meetings relevant to core facilities, such as the annual meetings of the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) or the Analytical Laboratory Managers Association (ALMA). Rather, the goal was to establish regional networking between core facility directors in a structured but informal setting.
The meeting had multi-institutional support. The organizing committee included George Grills (Cornell University), Michelle Detwiler (Roswell Park Cancer Institute), Theodore Thannhauser (USDA-ARS), Timothy Hunter (Vermont Cancer Center at the University of Vermont), P. Scottie Adams (Trudeau Institute), and Stephen Bobin (Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dart-mouth Hitchcock Medical Center). Vendor participation and support was not sought in order to keep the focus of the meeting on face-to-face discussions between facility directors. The goal was to create a meeting environment that would foster informal and informative networking and an exchange of ideas concerning instrumentation, reagents, and consumables, without influence or pressures from marketing representatives. Financial support was obtained from several institutions in the region, including the Cornell University Life Sciences Core Laboratories Center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Vermont Cancer Center, Vermont Genetics Network, and the Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The ABRF also contributed funding for the meeting. Announcements for the meeting were sent out via email to core facilities in the Northeast United States region, and notices were posted on the ABRF Web site and the International Society for Analytical Cytology (ISAC) Web site. A NERLSCD meeting Web site was created for the dissemination of meeting information, for online registration, and for abstract and poster submission.
The meeting agenda consisted of a reception on the first night, followed by a full day of presentations and workshops. The morning consisted of presentations on topics relevant to all core directors and managers. The afternoon had a poster session and eight concurrent technology-focused workshops.
The plenary speaker was Youcef Rustum, Senior Vice President for Science Administration at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Rustum focused on the role that core facility technologies have played in the development of cancer treatment and how these technologies have helped to facilitate understanding of the biology of tumor growth and metastasis. He credited the contributions of core facilities as a key factor in the success of cancer research, describing the role of core facility technology and expertise in developing an understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying malignancy and tumor development. He proposed that one must know a field, understand where the gaps in knowledge and technology are, and develop and refine the tools that are needed to move the field to the next steps of discovery. He indicated that basic science must be the driving force behind applied technology development.
Timothy Hunter, manager of the DNA analysis and microarray cores of the University of Vermont, gave a presentation on the management of shared resource laboratories and the challenges of developing and sustaining multi-technology cores. Hunter discussed core facility organization, staffing, access, services, quality control, integration with other cores, user education, facility promotion, oversight, budgeting, and community outreach activities. He emphasized the importance of the quality of the data generated, how it is delivered and supported, and the ability to meet the changing demands of facility users.
Other morning presentations focused on networking resources and results of networking from organizations whose missions include supporting communication and sharing information between core resource facilities. Scottie Adams, from the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF), gave a presentation on an international core facility networking association. Glenn Saunders, from the Upstate Laboratory Robotics Interest Group (LRIG), gave a presentation on a regional networking group. Janet Murray, from the University of Vermont, gave a presentation on an organization that networks with core laboratories to facilitate statewide educational outreach activities.
The afternoon agenda consisted of a poster session and technology-focused breakout sessions. The poster session provided an opportunity for core facility directors to present posters describing the activities and services that their individual cores provide and to view what core services are available at neighboring institutions. Forty-seven posters were presented. Poster presentations in pdf format were made available after the meeting on a Web site restricted to meeting participants.
The poster session was followed by eight technology workshop sessions, each led by a moderator and a panel of experts. Topics of interest were discussed among core directors and managers offering similar services. There were workshop discussion sessions on DNA sequencing and genotyping, microarrays, real-time PCR, proteomics and mass spectrometry, protein production and characterization, flow cytometry, optical imaging, and bioinformatics and bio-IT.
The meeting had a total of 126 registered attendees representing 58 institutions (Figure 1) from 15 states (Figure 2). A total of 15% of attendees were from Cornell University in Ithaca, which was the location of the meeting. The attendance was fairly evenly distributed among the remaining represented institutions. About half of the attendees were from New York State. Many of the remaining attendees were from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut. Though the meeting had a northeast regional focus, there were some attendees from as far as south as Tennessee and as far west as California. All the workshop sessions were well attended (Figure 3).
A survey was made available on the Web soon after the meeting. A link to the survey was available on the poster download Web site. Information regarding the survey Web site was sent to all meeting participants via email. A total of 40% of meeting attendees responded to the Web-based survey. The overall evaluation of the meeting was extremely positive. The majority of respondents wanted the meeting to be held at the same site at the same time next year, with the discussion focus continuing to be on core facility operational issues. Ninety-five percent rated the overall content of the meeting as good to excellent in regards to the value to their core facility. Many meeting attendees requested a longer meeting in the future. The feedback from responses to the survey will help shape future regional meetings.
The survey indicated that 35% of the 126 meeting attendees had never heard of the ABRF prior to this meeting. Eighty-five percent had never heard of the LRIG. A total of 30% of meeting attendees (38 out of 126) of the participants were current or past ABRF members. Within three months of the NERLSCD meeting, nine of the attendees joined the ABRF as new members, presumably to further networking opportunities.
More information about this meeting can be found at http://nerlscd.biotech.cornell.edu.