Inside Salk 12 |15
T’S FEEDING TIME AT THE MICROSCOPIC ZOO.
In a small, brightly lit room, scientists sit or stand
at counters, carefully pouring liquid food into
round petri dishes. The dishes, which contain tiny
specks of stem cells, turn yellow (a result of the
cells’ waste) when it’s time to feed them. The
dishes turn a happier crimson when the cells are given
their daily cocktail of vitamins and sugars.
Stem cells are incredibly fickle, requiring precise, often
daily, care to survive. But the effort has a potentially big
payoff, as the cells are a powerful way to study diseases
ranging from autism to cancer and hold the key to life-
saving regenerative therapies.
The most sophisticated research technologies—from stem
cell protocols to genome sequencers—demand dedicated
expertise and thorough understanding of their complexities,
limitations and possibilities. This specialized knowledge is
often beyond the purview of the average research lab, as
are the expenses associated with purchasing, operating and
maintaining the very latest in equipment and supplies.
That’s where shared scientific facilities called cores, like
the Salk Stem Cell Core, come in. As part of Salk’s first
major fundraising campaign, the Institute has secured
support to expand its core facilities in recent years. The
Institute currently has 13 core facilities providing lead-
ing-edge scientific technologies and expertise. Far from
being just service stations, the cores are idea factories
spurring collaboration and pushing the limits of technology
to enable breakthroughs.
“To do big science, you need big technology,” says
, senior director of Salk’s scientific core
facilities. “The continued advancement and cost of
technology, as well as the need for trained experts, are
the drivers for creating these structured, shared resources
between the labs.”
A software program calculates the distance between
brain cell terminals in a sample to determine the
number of synaptic connections (yellow).
Courtesy of the Allen lab