Washington Update

Centralized Research Resources Mean Productivity at University of Maryland

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Thursday, October 24, 2019

Core facilities provide critical access to cutting-edge tools and resources, including opportunities to collaborate and consult with technical experts, furthering scientific and clinical research. In 2013, the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) adopted a centralized model for core facilities operations to better accommodate the needs of investigators and trainees.

Nicholas Ambulos, PhD, director of UMSOM’s core facility formally known as the Center for Innovative Biomedical Resources (CIBR), helped spearhead this effort. In a recent CIBR visit, Dr. Ambulos and other faculty and staff shared with this writer the process involved to achieve this restructuring, and the positive changes that resulted.

At the university’s Baltimore campus that is home to UMSOM, the 75-acre size made it very difficult for researchers to communicate between facilities, much less collaborate across disciplines. The concept of core facility centralization hadn’t been considered until Dr. Ambulos’ genomics core facility shared laboratory space with the biomedical freezer program in 1994. It was then that Dr. Ambulos developed a new research vision: one place, one shared core.

Inspired by his more recent experience sharing laboratory space with another department, Dr. Ambulos obtained an NIH G20, a one-time grant focused on core facility renovation, repair, and improvement, funded through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. UMSOM was able to renovate 28,000 square feet of lab and office space. Completed in 2013, the $7.3 million project relocated the majority of UMD’s research cores to a new shared space.

This shift to a centralized structure allowed the campus to go from a “where’s Waldo situation to a Walmart Supercenter,” Dr. Ambulos said. Resources across disciplines—from basic research to clinical trials—are now accessible in one location. The facility also provides biostatical services and physician-scientist training.

The impact of centralization on collaboration and productivity is particularly noteworthy; both core and administrative staff said the new structure allows investigators to access services and communicate with expert staff in a timely manner. Dr. Ambulos also stressed how support from UMSOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, was essential to the project’s success.

When asked what advice he would offer to other institutions considering a similar move, Dr. Reece said the UMD administration embraces centralization and takes measures to promote the model. In fact, when the school is recruiting new faculty, candidates are required to meet with Dr. Ambulos and tour the core facilities. “This sets the tone for the way we view and conduct research,” Dr. Reece said.

At a groundbreaking ceremony for CIBR back in 2013, Dean Reece has an indelible memory of a comment from NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD: “This is the research of the future.”