For the past 20+ years, I’ve been participating in two parallel universes: one is ABRF (Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities) and the other is Bio-Link. In 1998, shortly after starting Geospiza, I attended my first ABRF meeting. At the same time, Dr. Sandra Porter, had developed a biotechnology program at Seattle Central Community College and was recruited to join Bio-Link, a nascent national network of community colleges focused on supporting the biotech industry through technical education. Through Sandra, I've been directly and indirectly involved with Bio-Link since its beginning. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the similarities between the groups and think it is worthwhile that ABRF gets to know Bio-Link, and that Bio-Link gets to know ABRF. At this year's ABRF annual meeting we're going to do just that with a session entitled "Community colleges: the new frontier for advanced biotechnology education and laboratory services." The meeting is March 23-26, 2019 in San Antonio Texas. Early bird registration closes Jan. 30, 2019.
Why are we doing this?
ABRF and Bio-Link have strong commitments to understanding technology and biotechnology education. As we know, community colleges play a vital role in supporting the biotechnology industry. Throughout the country these colleges provide hands-on education with technical certificates and (or) two and four-year degrees to educate the technical workforce. Students in biotechnology programs include high-school graduates, individuals changing careers, college graduates – many with bachelors degrees in biology related disciplines, and even PhD holders.
As the biotechnology industry as grown and matured, so have the community college programs. As such is not uncommon to find community college laboratories equipped with the most modern equipment and practicing methods that include advanced DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry, microscopy, chromatography, immunoassay, and bioinformatics to name a few. Many programs are now scaling up and developing education skill standards to support the next phase of biotechnology manufacturing, which will involve personalized medicine products that include CRISPR-based gene therapies, CAR-T and other immuno-therapeutics, and patient derived tissue therapies.
Some programs have established contract services and business incubators. These facilities were created to catalyze regional economic development and provide additional internships for students entering the workforce. Not surprisingly, these college-run organizations share many similarities with ABRF core facilities.
ABRF members come from the core (shared) facilities found in research institutions and industry. These are the labs that operate advanced equipment such as DNA sequencers, mass spectrometers, flow cytometers, imaging systems, and many others. ABRF members also include administrators who have financial responsibilities and have learned how to operate sustainable business facilities within their schools and other institutions. Thus, Bio-Link and ABRF members have many things in common and many experiences to share, so it is worthwhile that these groups to get to know each other.
To expand on mutual benefits, students educated in Bio-Link programs are ideally suited for working in many ABRF laboratories. The ABRF membership is also ideally suited to mentoring Bio-Link programs and contributing to their curriculum development. Together, ABRF labs and Bio-Link programs can collaborate on professional training and business development. Each year, Bio-Link members conduct workshops on hot technologies, like CRISPR, stem cells, and bioinformatics. Similarly, in addition to ABRF's annual meeting, ABRF members have regional chapters, and each chapter has their own meeting to provide additional localized opportunities for technical education and networking. Thus, Bio-Link members would be great ABRF members and ABRF members would be great Bio-Link members.
About the Session
As noted, I have organized a session this year to introduce Bio-Link and ABRF. Session attendees will learn about the Bio-Link network; its past and future, college-based contract service organizations, biotechnology business incubators, and regenerative medicine education.
ABRF members will learn how Bio-Link programs can aid in staffing core labs, training personnel, and increasing business through collaborative service offerings. As Bio-Link embodies the spirit and practice of ABRF’s education mission, efforts by the Bio-Link community to develop technical standards and best practices provide additional benefits. By attending the meeting, Bio-Link members will benefit by learning how core laboratory business practices keep facilities sustainable, how ABRF can help with technical education by collaborating on course development and partnering on project proposals that could be funded by NSF or others.
The session participants include Dr. Linnea Fletcher (Austin CC, Austin Bio-link regional center PI); Abbe Kesterson (Bluegrass CC, DNA sequencing contract services organization); Dr. Tyler Drake (Director, ACC Bioscience Incubator); Dr. Thomas Tubon (Madison College, Regenerative Medicine Program); and myself (Dr. Todd Smith, panel leader; Chief Software Architect, Digital World Biology).
For those interested in attending the session is Tue, Mar 26, 2019 at 10:30 am.
Did I mention the meeting is also fun. In 2017 we had a special treat for those interested. Namely, a microbiome sampling session. At the start of the meeting, volunteers submitted their phones to a group of swabbers. Who, over the course of the meeting, isloated DNA and sequenced 16S rRNA. Results were presented three days later at the closing session. A lot can be learned from one's phone ...