From neighbors to collaborators

Karin Rodland, Ph.D. and Mary Stenzel-Poore, Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University

Research organizations are about as diverse as the scientists, clinicians and engineers they support. With that diversity comes differing strengths: at academic health centers, physicians and scientists work side-by-side to bring new laboratory discoveries to the care of patients, to educate and train future health professionals and to serve their local communities. Government laboratory investigators, on the other hand, assemble teams from multiple disciplines to work towards a handful of goals, build large and one-of-a-kind scientific instruments, and connect through a national network in the federal system.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, our two research organizations – a public health and research university and a national lab -- are combining our strengths to pursue new lines of research that wouldn't be possible at our individual institutions. We have long fostered investigator-to-investigator collaborations between Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. Many of these collaborations have resulted in published research and continued funding, but we sought something bigger.

By formalizing our alliance, we are going to be able to take advantage of our complementary resources to address some of the world's most complex biomedical questions. OHSU has the bench-to-bedside experience and PNNL has the state-of-the-art technology to pursue – together – advanced biomedical research to uncover disease markers that, hopefully, will ultimately lead to new therapies.

We are calling our alliance the OHSU-PNNL Northwest Co-Laboratory for Integrated 'Omics. "Omics" is a buzzword that refers to the study of whole orchestras of biological components in an effort to understand how organisms work, such as genomics for genes, proteomics for proteins, metabolomics for metabolites, and so on. We will be exploring how genes, proteins and various metabolic products interact in health and disease.

Historically, OHSU has been strong in genomics. Having successfully expanded its National Institutes of Health funding over the years, it has grown into a nationally prominent biomedical research environment, with features such as the Oregon National Primate Research Center and a robust translational and clinical research enterprise. A Department of Energy lab, PNNL has a long history in advancing technology for proteomics and is now applying those omics technologies to diverse fields, such as metabolism and cell systems that regulate growth and other activities.

We are going big but starting small. Later this year, the co-laboratory will begin work on several experiments related to developmental origins of health and disease and stroke. We'll have a one-year pilot phase in which a small number of PNNL researchers will work with faculty in the OHSU Proteomics Shared Resource on projects that require the use of PNNL's targeted mass spectrometry. A PNNL-trained scientist in the OHSU Proteomics Shared Resource will assist OHSU investigators in sample preparation, project management, and data analysis and interpretation in order to provide greater sensitivity and throughput.

Over time, OHSU and PNNL hope to create a state-of-the-art mass spectrometry facility on the OHSU campus equipped with the most capable commercial instrumentation designed for targeted mass spectrometry and the latest in PNNL technology.

Our co-laboratory is an exciting example of how diverse institutions can work together to mutually expand scientific capabilities in emerging technologies. A natural extension of longtime collaborative relationships, our formal agreement opens avenues that we can't even guess at yet. We are confident the co-laboratory will make important contributions in biological science that will benefit the nation, advantageously joining DOE and NIH capabilities to further several Presidential research initiatives – the BRAIN Initiative, the Microbiome Initiative, and the Precision Medicine Initiative.

 

Karin Rodland, Ph.D., laboratory fellow at PNNL, affiliate professor of cell, developmental and cancer biology in the School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University

Mary Stenzel-Poore, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University

 

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