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Aligning Research Resources with Researchers

Biospecimens being retrieved from a liquid nitrogen storage tank

The University of Miami is a research powerhouse. 

In 2023, UM received $760 million in externally sponsored awards to support the research enterprise and is currently ranked 26th nationally out of 227 private institutions in research and development expenditures.  

The Miller School of Medicine is No. 1 in the state of Florida for National Institutes of Health funding and uses the nearly $175 million it receives annually from public and private agencies to fund 2,000 current projects. 

But the larger questions UM researchers pose — How can we target cancer cells that mimic healthy cells? How do we regenerate the optic nerve during a whole eye transplant?— are always prefaced by a smaller one. 

Where do I get the stuff I need for my research? 

In an organization as large and active as UM, that question is more complicated than it may seem. 

“We definitely have a lot of very useful and state-of-the-art resources for our research community,” said Laura Bianchi, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics at the Miller School. “But we needed to put forth a little effort to make them known and aligned with the needs of our researchers.” 

Dr. Laura Bianchi

To do so, the University of Miami’s Research Cores and Facilities Committee organized the UM Research Resources Expo, a two-day, multi-campus overview of the core facility resources that catalyze UM research. 

Research core facilities offer high-level expertise, advanced instruments and a wide array of services to support University of Miami researchers. Need some information about how much sea levels rise during hurricanes? The Rosenstiel School’s Coastal and Shelf Modeling group has that data. How about use of an Illumina NovaSeq X Plus gene sequencer? Both the Onco-Genomics Shared Resource in Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Sequencing Core in the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics have you covered. 

Too often, researchers know what they need for their work, but not where to get it. There can also be significant value in core facilities coordinating their support for research projects that are facilitated by multiple core facilities. 

2024 Research Resources Expo organizer George Grills
George Grills was the research expo’s lead organizer.

“You could have investigators working in a building who didn’t know there’s a core facility in the same building that could support their research,” said George Grills, associate director of shared resources at Sylvester Comprehensiv Cancer Center and the expo’s lead organizer. “With the expo, we wanted to educate investigators about the shared resources across UM that are available to our research community, and also to enhance networking among core facilities so that they can better leverage the synergies between them.” 

The Research Resources Expo featured an introductory seminar by academic leaders from all the UM campuses, poster presentations by leaders of core facilities, breakout panel sessions during which core facility leaders gave lightning talks and answered questions about their services and tours of cores on both campuses. 

Including presenters, 257 people attended the expo, and Grills said the attendees’ collective reaction justified the event. 

“The common refrain I heard was, ‘I didn’t know that the university had so many research resources,’” Grills said. 

The expo debuted at Bascom Palmer Auditorium with a seminar that featured four University of Miami faculty talking about the role of core facilities as research catalysts: 

Maria Alcaide, M.D., vice provost for research and scholarship and a professor of medicine in the Miller School’s Division of Infectious Diseases 

Antonio Iavarone, M.D., professor of neurological surgery at the Miller School and deputy director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center  

Fabrice Manns, Ph.D., professor and chair of biomedical engineering at the College of Engineering and professor of ophthalmology at the Miller School  

M. Danielle McDonald, Ph.D., professor of marine biology and ecology and associate dean of research at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Sciences at the University of Miami 

The first of two three-hour poster sessions highlighting the work of 45 of the university’s core facilities and seven shared research resources followed. The first session, at the medical campus’ Schoniger Research Quadrangle, traveled a bit south two days later for the benefit of the university’s Coral Gables campus attendees and was preceded by breakout panel sessions focused on genomics, biostatistics, flow cytometry, biorepository, optical imaging and electron microscopy. 

“The breakout sessions brought in core leaders from similar types of services but different academic units on different campuses,” Grills said. “Some of them said this was the first time they had been in the same room and that they were going to have follow-up discussions and cooperatively develop plans focused on areas of common interest.”  

Early feedback was uniformly positive and has spurred talk of another expo next year and frequent information sharing sessions leading up to it. 

“People were saying, ‘So, you’re going to do this every year, right?’” said Laura Kozma, associate vice president for research administration in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research Scholarship. “One of our expo takeaways is there’s a continued need to put our message out there and pull people in on a regular basis so that they can see what’s available and have opportunities to interact.” 

The expo organizing team also hopes to improve the utility of research-supporting web resources so researchers don’t have to wait for an annual expo to find the information their work demands. 

“We’re working on creating an accurate, up-to-date, searchable database that’s a website portal for all the shared resources at the university,” Grills said. “It’s important to create that type of public presence for our shared resources.

Tags: University of Miami