Unique inter-faculty collaboration initiative
The Department of Biology (BIO), from MatNat Faculty and the Department of Biomedicine (BIOMED), from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry have undertaken a unique initiative that aims to optimize cutting edge research approaches and technology platforms at both Departments.
BIO and BIOMED are the two largest departments at the University of Bergen. Contact between the two institutions over the past few years has highlighted how much they actually have in common in terms of approaches and technical infrastructure. The Department leaders decided to undertake a concrete initiative to encourage their respective researchers to engage in mutually beneficial collaborative research projects.
The "kick-off" activity was a Joint Department Seminar held 18 Feb, 2009. The day-long seminar involved presentations, posters and discussions that focused on areas of potential interest. In addition, Jarl Giske and Rolf Reed, leaders respectively of BIO and BIOMED, announced a concrete financial incentive to encourage collaboration between the two institutes. As a prize for the first collaborative project to attain NFR or EU funding, both Departments will further support the winning project with a PhD position at each Department!
Lise Øvreås presented BIO's extensive activity in microbiology - an area that medical research more often concentrates on eliminating! However, she highlighted the fact that the new molecular techniques and the advent of bioinformatics used in microbiology are the same ones used in biomedical research. According to Øvreås, microbial studies can provide valuable insights into questions of virulence, drug resistance, potential vaccine candidates, etc that are extremely relevant to biomedicine. Rolf Reed pointed out that studies of biofilm are also a potential area for collaborative research.
Mikko Heino presented how modeling studies are applicable to many research questions, and are especially useful tools to consider using for questions that might be difficult otherwise because of size issues, time and ethical considerations.
Jon Vidar Helvik presented work with zebrafish, one of the model organisms that are used at BIO. Zebrafish are being increasingly used in medical research worldwide. With their short generation time, ease of culture, transparent egg and embryo phase, zebrafish have many advantages for gene, development and organ studies. There is a growing international community of researchers using them and Helvik pointed out the useful web portal, zfin.org, that is organising this global pool of research results.
Both involve the latest technology and the platforms aim to share their expertise and technology through courses, training programmes as well as through providing access and service.
Rolf Bjerkvig presented some research into cancer and his talk built on the talk presented by Helvik as an example of research at BIOMED that could take advantage of the zebrafish model.
BIOMED also presented details about its active collaboration with BTO (Bergen Teknologioverføring AS (BTO) is the Technology Transfer Office for Bergen region). Many research projects at BIOMED have potential applied applications and they have developed a strategy of meeting twice a year to present the Department's research activity to staff at BTO.
BTO underlined its support for the cross faculty initiative by offering a prize for the best poster. Poster sessions provide valuable opportunities for researchers to easily get a sense of one another's work and thus are good facilitators of idea exchange; something that in turn can lead to collaborative initiatives. BTO leader Anders Haugland said that in judging the 20 posters he considered the commercial potential of the research presented in the posters as well as the quality of the presentation and research themselves. The winning poster was "Modelling Angiogenesis by Tissue Engineering", by Monica Hellesøy, Anna Blois, Lasse Evensen, Crina E. Trion and James B. Lorens. They received 25 000NOK to be used to support academic travel. Read the poster abstract.
As both Departments deal with biological research, the final presentations and discussions of the day concerned their respective study programmes to determine if there is any possibility for collaboration. Both Departments are undergoing re-organisation processes. BIO is only four years old as a Department and is currently undertaking the first revision of its study programmes. The Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry is only one year old and its study programmes organisation is very new. Studies are also organised at the Faculty level at this Faculty, while they are organised at the Department level at the MatNat Faculty.
There was general agreement that the issue of common courses should be considered and this discussion should involve other Departments as well such as Molecular Biology and Chemistry. There was even mention of a possible prize for the best initiative in this area!
All in all, the Joint Seminar Day initiative was deemed a success. Plans are already afoot to repeat the experience in the future. BIO's new Administration Leader, Elisabeth Müller Lysebo, said that one of the important ideas to emerge was that the specialised facilities, the zebrafish lab at BIO and NorMIC and PROBE at BIOMED clearly provide good opportunities for future collaborations.