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Laboratories Move to NCI Shady Grove Campus, Unifying DCEG

Ehssan Abdolalizadeh, fellow in LTG, preparing samples.

Ehssan Abdolalizadeh, postbaccalaureate fellow in LTG, preparing samples in the cell culture lab.

In the summer of 2020, colleagues in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG), the Laboratory of Genetic Susceptibility (LGS), and the Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory (CGR) joined the rest of the Division staff on the NCI Shady Grove campus as occupants of a newly-constructed, state-of-the-art laboratory and staff building, the Consolidated Research Laboratories (CRL). 

Belynda Hicks, M.S., deputy director of CGR, and Lea Jessop, Ph.D., technical laboratory manager for LTG and LGS, worked with Division leadership, architects, and NCI Office of Space and Facilities Management staff to integrate custom features into the building to streamline workflow and address specific laboratory needs. For example, for lab scientists handling delicate, paper-thin tissue samples, special air vents were installed to manage air circulation and reduce disruption in the sample handling rooms. For digital scanning and confocal microscopy, extra steps were taken to eliminate floor vibration to optimize the work of these ultra-sensitive instruments. “Instead of fitting ourselves into an existing biotech space, we designed a space that meets the needs of our staff, instruments, and methods,” explained Meredith Yeager, Ph.D., scientific director of CGR.

Biologist works at a lab bench in the open-plan layout of the new facilities of LTG.

DNA storage unit, capable of housing over two million samples and performing automatic plating.

The infrastructure of the CRL accommodates a new biosample storage unit that requires complex, high-powered cooling and electrical systems. This critical function has expanded capacity for sample analysis. In addition to supporting multiple DCEG principal investigators, the enhanced efficiency in sample handling and analysis will also benefit large-scale cohort research throughout the division, like the Connect for Cancer Prevention Cohort Study and the Confluence Project, as well as other large studies in the future. 

The move also brings improvements for data management; the data center is now colocated with the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology, whose staff are onsite to assist with management and provide support. 

With additional laboratories and offices, CGR, LTG, and LGS have dedicated workspaces large enough to accommodate their staff comfortably. Moreover, the open-plan layout facilitates frequent cross-talk and collaboration between different labs and projects, bolstering research across the board. Several demountable units make the space easy to adapt to shifting research priorities, new workflows, and increased automation. “With this flexible floor plan, we are ready to meet changing research demands with ease and efficiency,” explained Ms. Hicks. 

Research assistants on the Genome Discovery Team in CGR perform a desulphonation and cleanup process using an automated work station.

Research assistants in CGR perform a desulphonation and cleanup process using an automated work station.

After three years of planning and coordination, the move itself was a massive collaborative undertaking involving 700 pieces of scientific equipment, 800 moving crates of lab supplies, and 300 boxes of records; not to mention the computers and office contents of 140 staff. 

“While the building is not yet at full capacity, due to the restrictions set in place to control the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief of LTG, “everyone is excited to be just across the street from our colleagues, achieving a long-term Division goal of bringing lab-based investigators previously located at the Advanced Technology Research Facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, closer to the rest of DCEG.”

 

Consolidated Research Laboratories, the new home of LTG, LGS, and CGR.

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