Arkansas Research Alliance launches Core Facilities Exchange program

by George Jared ([email protected]) 555 views 

Several years ago, a female scientist needed a specific type of MRI machine to further her research. There was only one in the state and she had no access to it. She spent several years writing grants so that she could buy a similar machine. A new statewide program announced Tuesday (Feb. 8) hopes to alleviate problems like that for scientists, investigators, engineers and others.

The Arkansas Research Alliance has launched its Core Facilities Exchange (CFE) program. It is a curated, online repository of sophisticated research instruments housed at laboratories and universities across the state.

The CFE provides a gateway for scientists to search, without cost, for tools they need to advance their research ideas. The cost of using the equipment depends on the host facility. The CFE features technical information on the capabilities of more than 300 instruments along with the contact information for the host facility. Users are encouraged to contact the core facility directly to discuss their research goals.

“Arkansas researchers can think of the entire state as their laboratory,” said Bryan Barnhouse, president and CEO of ARA. “The leadership of the six institutional partners represented in CFE recognize that research is a team sport. The CFE extends the collaborative reach of the state’s investigators and opens more doors to federal grant funding, potentially injecting millions of dollars into the state’s knowledge economy.”

The benefits of the CFE extend beyond convenience and competitiveness. The CFE also has the potential to increase facilities utilization and help avoid duplication and redundancy in capital expenditures. Equipment can be challenging to maintain over the long-term, if not used regularly.

The CFE is spearheaded by an ARA-led partnership of the state’s five major research universities. They are responsible for more than 90% of federal research dollars that flow into the state and include the University of Arkansas (UA), the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Arkansas State University (ASU), the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). This group formally entered a MOU supporting the CFE to recognize the importance of cooperation and collaboration to incentivize a thriving, well-networked research community.

Additionally, the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) joins the partnership under the terms of a separate, long-standing MOU between the governor and the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

ARA Program Manager Amy Hopper has taken the lead on the new project. She worked with 59 researchers around the state to develop the program prior to its launch. The group was able to identify 39 separate, research core areas. One of the goals is to help researchers, member institutions and others collaborate on a higher level that could lead to even more grant money pouring into the state.

“This is a very exciting day, today,” UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said. “This is an opportunity to access more technology and other resources.”

Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said research and equipment can be very costly for public institutions. The lack of access can stymie critical research in a multitude of scientific and engineering disciplines.

“This isn’t a competition … we want to raise the research profiles of all of our universities in the state,” Damphousse said.