Modern biomedical research requires teams of people working together with high-quality equipment, all bringing their skills, expertise and dedication.
Alessandra Gaiba is a science support manager in charge of a quadrant of six labs. “My role on the quadrant is to look after all the organisational aspects and allow the scientists to concentrate on science,” says Alessandra. “They don’t have to worry about equipment malfunctions, consumables or any aspect of the building’s facilities – that’s my responsibility.”
Alessandra also has overall responsibility for all four quadrants on the floor, a total of 380 scientists in 30 research groups. This is more of a strategic, managerial role – beyond what lab managers typically do elsewhere. All the science support managers work together to identify how the Crick can best meet the needs of researchers.
“It’s about balancing communal and individual needs. You’re part fixer, negotiator and concierge – the person to go to,” says Alessandra. “For example, we’ll have input into identifying the best location for a new lab, as well as where the equipment should be located,” she explains.
“I love the interaction with the scientists. Ultimately, the end goal is to make sure that the researchers are free to concentrate on what they do best: pursue the discoveries that could make a difference to humans everywhere.”
Maintaining animal welfare
“It’s really essential that animals are kept in the best conditions,” says Rekha Subramaniam, a senior research scientist in the Crick’s animal research facility.
It’s not just a moral imperative, she explains, you also get better data and better results if the animals are kept in an enriched, optimal environment. “Healthy animals mean better science.”
Research at the Crick seeks to understand the biology underlying human health and disease. While standard lab-based techniques are used throughout the institute, animal research is necessary in some projects to understand why disease develops.
The overwhelming majority of animals at the Crick are mice. Rekha manages one of the mouse units, ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare are maintained at all times. “We make sure all the animals are looked after, providing them with the best care,” she explains.
“All the staff in the facility and scientists from research groups using the animals need to be trained to a high standard and competency is regularly reviewed.” The mice are housed in individually ventilated cages and are health checked every day.
Researchers from groups working on cancer and developmental biology use the mice in the unit. The animals enable precise studies of gene function and the pathways involved in disease, as well as providing models for understanding human diseases like lung cancer and dementia.
Ali Alidoust, Namita Patel and Damini Patel
Ali Alidoust is co-lead of Fermentation Services at the Crick, working in a team with the other co-lead Namita Patel and scientist Damini Patel.
They grow yeast and bacteria in fermenters, providing large quantities of cells and proteins for research groups to use in experiments.
Yeast and bacteria are standard organisms used in many biology labs. They can work as factories to produce proteins in order to study their biological role. In small quantities, yeast and bacteria cultures can be grown overnight in flasks of nutrient-containing liquids.
When more is needed, something else has to be done. “We can save research groups time and cost with our specialist equipment and expertise,” says Ali. “We can do 100 litres in one run, and we have produced 10,000 litres of culture for some postdocs in the past.”
The Crick has five fermenters, each of which can control the temperature, acidity, aeration and other factors for optimal growth of the bacteria or yeast inside. Once the cells are ready, they are harvested through a continuous centrifuge in around an hour. The samples then go to the scientists for their experiments.
“For some groups, what we do is essential,” says Ali. “We work with them all the time because, in order to assure the quality they need, we need to talk frequently, spotting and solving any problems.”