From van Leeuwenhoek’s first gaze into the world of microscopic organisms to the sequencing of the human genome, scientific discoveries have depended on access to cutting-edge technology. Today, more tools with greater power than ever are available. But their costs have grown at a faster rate than the ability of most scientists to acquire them.
To promote investment in high-impact, next-generation scientific equipment, the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) — a partnership between the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) — is announcing a $3 million Infrastructure Initiative. The Initiative aims to make modern and powerful tools available to the CBC research community at a time when federal grants for scientific infrastructure are scarce.
“Chicago leads the nation with this new model for more economically acquiring cutting-edge technology for multiple institutions,” said CBC scientific co-director Shohei Koide, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago. “This initiative enables the establishment of transformative instrumentation capabilities, which will allow Chicago-area researchers to stay at the forefront of biomedical discovery.”
In May 2014, the CBC crafted the Open Access Initiative in order to create a cooperative effort that gives CBC researchers access to core facility instrumentation and expertise at each other’s institutions with no additional “outsider” cost.
The Infrastructure Initiative builds upon this agreement by giving each university $1 million to acquire novel, state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to be shared under the Open Access Initiative. The universities closely collaborated to ensure selected instruments are complementary and non-redundant. Each will contribute additional resources, including space, staffing and long-term support in order to efficiently utilize the new instruments.
“The CBC’s generous grant will provide a welcome addition to the University of Chicago’s state-of-the-art instrumentation and allows talented scientists from around our partner institutions to perform groundbreaking work,” said Donald Levy, PhD, Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.
The three Infrastructure Initiative projects receiving CBC funding are:
- Northwestern will acquire a next-generation electron detector for its $5 million cryo-electron microscope (cryoEM) core facility. CryoEM allows researchers to visualize unaltered biological samples in their native environment, at scales ranging from cellular to near-atomic resolution. Among its many applications are the study of the molecular mechanisms of disease and predicting the behavior of drugs and biological matter. The new detector will markedly expand the capabilities of the facility. Only about 25 of these cameras are currently operational in the U.S., none of which are in the Midwest.
- The University of Chicago will acquire a $1.6 million cryo-electron microscope that will operate in tandem with Northwestern’s facility to establish an integrated, multi-institutional center of excellence in cryoEM. It will greatly expand imaging capabilities and will allow the University of Chicago to build upon and share its strengths in structural biology and molecular engineering. For challenging projects requiring higher resolution, the new microscope will be used to optimize specimen preparation conditions before analysis at Northwestern’s cryoEM facility. Several units at the University of Chicago will be providing matching funds to complete the purchase.
- UIC will acquire a suite of systems to establish a Single Cell Analysis Core that will allow gene expression analysis and direct quantitative measurement of proteins at the single cell level. Recent evidence suggests that individual cells within the same population can differ greatly, even if they are of the same “type.” Since these differences could potentially impact the health and function of the entire population, single cell analysis is an important biomedical frontier. There is currently no complete single cell analysis system in Chicago.
The CBC was launched in 2006 in response to a Searle family challenge to the three Chicago-based universities: design a plan that would enhance local biomedical research in a unique, Midwestern-style that fosters collaboration rather than competition.
“The CBC grant helps augment and expand our research capabilities by allowing us to add to an already robust array of equipment available not only to UIC researchers, but also to our colleagues at Northwestern and University of Chicago through the Open Access Initiative,” said Mitra Dutta, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research at UIC.
Supported by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, the CBC has helped advance the biomedical community in Chicago through a variety of programs, including the establishment of infrastructure facilities, aiding in technology acquisition and funding research grants.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, this latest gift will build on our existing expertise in cryoEM,” said Jay Walsh, PhD, Northwestern’s Vice President for Research. “It will also strengthen the CBC and our partnerships with the University of Chicago and UIC.”
For more information on the CBC visit www.chicagobiomedicalconsortium.org.