When it comes to discovering a cure for cancer, there’s strength in numbers.
The University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Shared Resources Programs provides University of Illinois at Chicago investigators with access to institutional core research facilities clustered into four primary divisions: genome research; bioanalytics, biophysics, and cytomics; scientific imaging and nanotechnology; and research support (https://rrc.uic.edu/cores).
The cores within each division are managed like a small business under the umbrella of the Research Resources Center (RRC) and Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. A reasonable fee-for-service recharge is collected from scientists to offset the cost of services, equipment, reagents, and technical support. The cores are also the benefactor of significant support from the State of Illinois, UIC, colleges, departments, the UI Cancer Center, and additional centers that ultimately reduces user fees and helps to maintain availability of state-of-the-art instrumentation and technical expertise to scientists at UIC. The RRC is led by Richard Minshall, PhD, professor of anesthesiology, pharmacology, and bioengineering.
The UI Cancer Center supports specific Shared Resources inherent within the RRC that provide cutting-edge technologies and expert consultation and training critical to the success of the research conducted by Cancer Center members. All UI Cancer Center members have access to these Shared Resources that are subsidized in part by funding from the UICC, the National Cancer Institute and by awards from the National Institutes of Health and other sponsors, Minshall said. Members not only have access to facilities at UIC, but also, as a partner of the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC), to core facilities at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. The CBC’s mission is to accelerate discovery that will transform biomedical research and improve the health of mankind. Many UICC members have been benefactors of seed funds from the CBC.
The following comprise the UI Cancer Center Shared Resources:
Interactive Cancer Genomics (ICG) Shared Resource provides UI Cancer Center members with the ability to interpret the role of the genome in cancer. Under the leadership of UI Cancer Center members Brad Merrill, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, and Gail Prins, PhD, Michael Reese Professor of Urology and co-director of the Chicago Center for Health and Environment (CACHET), the ICG provides a high level of technical expertise and hands-on training in RNA and DNA sequencing and gene editing, educational efforts, and free consultations for UI Cancer Center members. ICG Core Directors are Stefan Green, PhD; Zarema Arbieva, PhD; and Maureen Regan, MS.
“UIC has invested heavily in sequencers suited for the rapid turnaround (MiniSeq System), high output (NextSeq500) and long-read length (MiSeq),” Minshall said. “We recently acquired a microfluidics-based single cell analysis platform and a droplet-based system that allows the ICG to offer both high depth of sequencing or large number of individual cells for single cell RNA-sequencing applications as needed by Cancer Center members.”
The ICG combines multidimensional analysis capabilities together with CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technologies so UI Cancer Center members can conduct mechanistic experiments to directly test the effect of mutations. In fiscal year 2018, the ICG was used by 50 UI Cancer Center members from both the Cancer Biology and Translational Oncology research programs, Merrill said. New services for this year include the development of a delivery core to produce high titer viral (lenti-, adeno-, adeno associated) delivery systems.
“With the greater utilization of genome editing techniques and organoid cancer models, we anticipate a growing need for delivery of editors in a variety of non-model animal systems,” Merrill said. “This service will eliminate a barrier investigators would otherwise face in utilizing animal and organoid models.”
Over the past several months, new single-cell technologies have been developed in the ICG to assist researchers, Merrill said. Algorithms that provide lineage relationships among individual cells to suggest stem cell relationships have been improved, and the new technology he developed will allow a series of sgRNA to be held inactive and then sequentially activated in a preprogrammed manner. The new technique will enable genome editing algorithms to be devised by simple DNA synthesis and will allow UI Cancer Center researchers to test the importance of the order of mutagenic events during cancer progression.
Flow Cytometry Shared Resource (FCSR), led by Academic Director Bellur Prabhakar, PhD, UICC member and professor of microbiology and immunology and Associate Dean of Technology Innovation and Training in the College of Medicine, and Balaji Ganesh, PhD, Core Director, is the center of flow cytometry activity in the Illinois Medical District, facilitating inter-campus collaborative research among biomedical investigators from Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Rush University, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County.
Established in 1986, the FCSR offers a full range of instruments for cutting-edge cytometry, sorting and analysis. The facility (the main laboratory is located in the basement of the Medical Sciences Building) houses five bench-top flow cytometers (two with high-through-put plate readers); one imaging cytometer; two cell sorters; one small-particle analyzer (Nanosight); a Seahorse analyzer for studying cellular metabolism; a multiplex analyzer for quantification of soluble proteins (Bio-plex) such as cytokines; a cell counter; and a mass cytometer. It provides services for acquisition and analysis of cells, along with the sorting of individual cells, plus training and expert consultation for project/experiment planning.
The field of flow cytometry is rapidly evolving, and there is a “significant increase in understanding signatures of single cells,” Prabhakar said. “This will require developing and standardizing new methodologies and establishing pipelines that would facilitate isolation of single cells for further evaluation.
“Given these evolving challenges, it is critical to ensure that the requirements of the Cancer Center are met in terms of both quality and quantity.”
Translational Pathology Shared Resource, under the direction of Peter Gann, MD, ScD, UICC member and professor of pathology, and Core Director Maria Sverdlov, PhD, offers a wide array of research pathology services, including processing animal and human tissue samples; slide preparation; basic and complex staining; laser capture microdissection; a tissue microarray design/build service; pathologist consultation; and digital microscopy. An emerging In Vitro Cancer Model service offers specialized support for patient-derived organoids and xenografts.
Located on the sixth floor of the College of Medicine Research Building (COMRB), the facility occupies 1,200 square feet of laboratory and office space for histology work. Adjacent secure rooms contain digital microscopy scanners, workstations with image analysis software, and servers with attached storage devices. In addition to the histology and imaging equipment, the facility has the infrastructure for information technology and software.
A partnership with Leica Biosystems in Buffalo Grove, Ill., allowed the laboratory to obtain state-of-the-art equipment in exchange for consultation and training of the company’s employees. Responding to the growing needs of the UI Cancer Center members, the core expanded and partnered with the UI Biodepository to provide access to frozen and fixed human tissues under strict human subject’s protection rules. Along with serving Cancer Center members, the Translational Pathology Shared Resource collaborates on cancer-related projects with investigators from the Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University and faculty from Rush University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the University of Chicago.