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NCRC names 13 interim directors for Core Lab

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó Scientists from rival universities will put David Murdock’s vision of collaboration to the test as they open the Core Laboratory at the N.C. Research Campus.
In an unusual arrangement, 13 scientists from four universities have become interim directors of the high-tech specialities that make up the Core Lab. The search continues for a permanent chief executive officer for the Core Lab.
“It’s working extremely well,” said Dr. Steven Colman, chief operating officer for the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which owns and operates the Core Lab.
North Carolina’s college athletic rivalries are legendary. But scientists from these schools often compete as well, trying to secure increasingly scarce grants to fund their labs and research projects.
The interim directors in Kannapolis, however, can set aside competition while they get the Core Lab up and running.
“Collaboration is made a lot easier when we’ve been provided with tremendous resources,” said Dr. Simon Gregory, interim director for the genomics lab in Kannapolis and assistant professor at the Duke Center for Human Genetics.
Murdock built the Core Lab and outfitted it with so many state-of-the-art instruments that it’s been called the most complete life sciences laboratory in the world.
That allows scientists to work toward one purpose, Gregory said.
“Here, the goal is science, not the establishment of the cores,” he said.
The process may create some unexpected partnerships.
Gregory’s interim co-director in Kannapolis is Dr. Michael Topal, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
They had never met. But when they started working for Murdock’s Research Institute, they discovered they both study the same type of brain tumor.
“Not only are we collaborating to get Kannapolis off the ground, but this could spur collaborations independently,” Gregory said.
Eight universities have programs at the Research Campus. Four of them ó Duke, N.C. State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Greensboro ó have interim lab directors in Kannapolis.
“They are an extremely talented bunch of individuals, tops in their fields,” Colman said. “It’s a tremendous advantage for us.”
All the scientists maintain full-time positions with their universities while working for the Research Institute. Most of their work is done remotely, although personal visits to the campus will become more common.
The scientists will help decide the layout of the labs, who to hire and what ancillary equipment to purchase. As engineers bring sensitive instruments online, the interim directors will review data, seek clarification and determine if additional tests are needed.
Experiments in the Core Lab should begin by the end of the year, Gregory said.
The idea of using more than a dozen temporary lab directors is “as unusual as this whole project is unique,” Colman said. “It was a very creative, effective solution.”
Dr. R. Sanders Williams of Duke, who serves on the Murdock Research Institute board, came up with the idea, Colman said.
The institute needed to get six labs ó genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, nuclear magnetic resonance, light microscopy and electron microscopy ó up and running quickly. But hiring six permanent directors, which requires human resources infrastructure, recruitment packages and moving entire research programs to Kannapolis, takes time.
Contracting with scientific experts already located in North Carolina speeds up the process and encourages the collaboration that should drive the Research Campus in the years to come.
“These are unusual circumstances,” said Gregory, who helped establish the lab where scientists sequenced the human genome. “It’s not unusual to have a single interim director, but it’s unusual to have this number working together.”  

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