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The IRCM's core facilities: a guarantee of biomedical and clinical research excellence

April 3 2019 | Internal community

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In the field of biomedical and clinical research, scientific equipment plays a major role. However, since it advances at high speed, researchers must constantly adapt to stay on the cutting edge.

That's why the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) has made research infrastructure a key component of its operations through its core facilities, which include dozens of scientific instrument for the entire IRCM community. Today, 20 years after their creation, researchers, doctors, professionals and students are unanimous: the Institute's core facilities give them a head start, have become the envy of many and help recruit outstanding researchers. 

Expertise for everyone's benefit
The very first sequencing of the human genome — a procedure that maps our genes — took more than 10 years to do. However, 15 years after this major breakthrough, devices can now perform this procedure in one week.

“This example illustrates how research equipment has advanced rapidly, becoming more and more specialized. Innovations of this type continue to hit the market, constantly pushing the boundaries of science,” said Judith Cotton-Montpetit, Director of Core Facilities and Research Infrastructure at the Institute.

Twenty years ago, IRCM researchers joined forces to create institutional core facilities to ensure that the Institute remained at the forefront of technology. This brought a breadth of scientific equipment to the entire internal community. Approximately 50 employees oversee the operation of these research facilities, which include specialized imaging systems, gene sequencing devices and bioinformatics tools that can analyze a considerable amount of data.

 “Owning this type of technology park gives the Institute's researchers a competitive advantage. In particular, we can ensure that the infrastructure fulfills its full potential,” said Cotton-Montpetit. “For example, instead of acquiring and using microscopes of the same model in multiple labs, on a part-time basis, each device is used optimally.”

By consolidating their resources, IRCM scientists also can rely on a wider range of technology systems. In terms of square feet, the Institute's infrastructure equals the size of two National Hockey League rinks.

“Immediate access to a range of devices also benefits the young researchers we recruit,” added Judith Cotton-Montpetit. “They can start their labs faster, because we already have most of the equipment they need, plus the staff to support them.”

Service with a human touch
Beyond these devices, Ms. Cotton-Montpetit pointed out the human added value of a system based on pooling resources.

“Our staff is dedicated to managing and using our technology tools. Over time, it has developed invaluable state-of-the-art expertise, which can subsequently be transferred from laboratory to laboratory,” she said, emphasizing that the Institute's core facilities also serve external research groups from the academic and private sectors.

This know-how also contributes to the training of future researchers. Through its platforms, IRCM students have the opportunity to be taught by specialists from research fields complementary to their own, such as genomics, animal health and flow cytometry.

“All in all, over time, technology platforms have become much more than a set of devices at the IRCM. They are a vital niche of expertise for biomedical and clinical research. In its own way, our team has contributed to many scientific breakthroughs at the Institute, and we are proud of it,” Judith Cotton-Montpetit said in closing.

IRCM's core facilities: facts and figures

  • 50: number of employees dedicated to technology platforms
  • 3115: total square meters of research infrastructure at the Institute, equivalent to two National Hockey League rinks
  • 8: the number of core facilities in operation at the IRCM:
    • Animals facilities and animal health
    • Bioinformatics
    • Molecular biology and functional genomics
    • Flow cytometry
    • Histology
    • Microinjection and transgenesis
    • Microscopy and imaging
    • Mass spectrometry and proteomics