Policies & Procedures
Modern biomedical research has become increasingly reliant on multidisciplinary approaches, but it can be difficult for an individual researcher to become an expert in all of the appropriate methodologies. In addition, many of these state-of-the-art methods require increasingly expensive equipment that would typically be beyond the resources of most laboratories. Researchers who lack access to a broad range of modern methodologies are at a distinct disadvantage in today’s extremely competitive research climate. A highly effective way to address this problem is by establishing institutional laboratories (research cores) that provide the requisite instrumentation and expertise for critical methodologies.
Traditionally, cores have been defined by unique pieces of equipment that would be used by many investigators but were too costly for a single lab. In very rare situations, a Core might be developed around an expertise that is not equipment-based. Thus, successful research cores require: i) modern instrumentation, ii) the ability to maintain the equipment, and iii) personnel with the expertise both to operate the equipment and to assist non-experts in experimental design, interpretation, and the latest developments.
When cores are effectively managed, there are significant benefits to the entire institution. These are realized in the improved quality of research performed and a consequent increase in the ability of individual investigators to successfully compete for research grants with their attendant indirect costs. Effective cores also aid in recruitment and retention of quality faculty. Consequently, UT Health San Antonio has an interest in supporting research cores. Typically, this support includes both the space to house a core and a partial subsidy of core expenditures. The need to maximize utilization of the core by faculty and to provide stable support such that highly qualified staff can be retained must therefore be institutional priorities.
There are several criteria to be considered in deciding whether institutional support for a given core is warranted:
- The fundamental criterion for institutional support of a core is whether the presence of that core increases the capability for high quality research at the institution, as reflected in increased success in obtaining grants, in higher impact publications and/or retention and recruitment of faculty.
- A core must have a clearly defined area of expertise, with methodologies that keep pace with technical advances.
- Services are delivered on an equitable basis with access to all investigators in the university.
- The services provided by a core should be unique within UT Health San Antonio. Comparable methodologies should not be available commercially at a comparable cost. In some cases it may be preferable to subsidize the use of external (commercial or academic) facilities.
- The costs of the equipment required to provide the services should generally be beyond the capabilities of a single research group. A possible exception would be several moderately expensive pieces of related equipment unlikely to be utilized extensively by a single lab but of use on a less frequent basis to multiple labs.
- The services provided by a core should be sufficiently sophisticated that lack of expertise could be a barrier to the non-expert user.
- The core has an established management and governance structure that facilitates active faculty input and operation in compliance with the policies of the university and funding agencies.
Not all institutionally recognized core facilities and service centers receive financial support from the university to offset operating costs. Cores that adhere to the institutional policies and provide high-quality services provide substantial benefits to UT Health San Antonio. These cores can participate in promotional activities and receive administrative support, including assistance with centralized billing and collection of user fees.
NIH Guidance: FAQs for Costing of NIH-funded Core Facilities