Looking back on papers published in high profile journals over the years, the path to publication has become ever more involved. The number of figures has ballooned, especially with the introduction of online supplemental materials. For many research projects, the resources and expertise in one lab are not enough to answer all of the questions that arise in the course of a project. One way to address this problem is to establish collaborations with labs that have the expertise you need. Another important resource that addresses this issue has been core lab facilities at research universities. Those same resources that academics find instrumental for answering questions outside their field of expertise can be used by external scientists, too.
Perhaps one of the most abundant core lab resources is flow cytometry and fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) facilities. This is a field of research unto itself, but has largely been co-opted as a tool by researchers in other fields. The people that run flow cytometry core labs are experts in the field, and provide trained technicians to operate machines for outside users. Typically, outside users can be trained to do their own experiments on the machines that do the analysis, but core staff members operate the cell sorting machines. These facilities offer a mix of DIY access to expensive and specialized technology, along with experts that you can hand your experiment over to for a few hours to get to that next step.
Core facilities are attractive resources because they let researchers fill in a little piece of their puzzle very efficiently. Because core facilities generally operate on a recharge basis, they are run like small businesses. This means that they deliver within an agreed upon timeframe, and doing other peoples’ experiments is their business. This is different than the nature of a collaboration, where there’s no promise of how fast the work will be done.
For common services like flow cytometry, search out your nearest university. Here in San Diego, The Scripps Research Institute has a flow cytometry core facility that will do work for researchers outside the institute. It is best to contact the closest facility directly to inquire about rates and accessibility for outside users. Search our database to find more core facilities.