December 2016

First, as always at this time of year, I wish you a safe and restful break, and a fruitful season of grant-writing! My tasks this summer have included preparing materials for a 5-year Review of the Institute, and a Triennial Report for the years 2013-5. The following notes, edited from material prepared for the Triennial Report, provide a summary of the ‘state of the Institute’, at the end of 2016

A Period of Growth

The years 2013 -16 have been a period of continued success and growth in the Institute, in an increasingly complex environment. A review of available measures of research performance shows that over the period 2013 – 2015 (the last year for which figures are available):

  • HERDC listable publications from Bosch laboratories increased 19%, to 603 in 2015*.
  • The use of Bosch multi-user facilities fell 3.5%, to 581 paid-up users*.
  • The numbers of postgraduate research students in Bosch laboratories reached record levels (217*) in 2014.
  • Competitive income received by Bosch laboratories from the NHMRC rose 12% to $6.797m p.a.**
  • Competitive income received by Bosch laboratories from the ARC fell by 11%, to $1.15m p.a.
  • The allocation of Research Infrastructure Block Grant funds to the Institute fell 4% to $1.497m p.a.

(*Record levels; **NHMRC funding peaked in 2014 at $6.914m)

Thus, we achieved record levels of discovery (publications), Facility use and student training, in the context of reduced or flat income, the reduction resulting from increased redirection of infrastructure funds by the University, and from shifts of grant policy, particularly by the NHMRC and ARC. This outcome – of expanding discovery in a time of changing priorities in the sources of our funding – is one of which any institute would be proud. It is in addition to achievements harder to measure – our Young Investigators program, the training done by our Facilities, the conferences and workshops and other initiatives. These trends are a tribute, of course, to the work of Bosch scientists, from Honours students to laboratory heads. They are a tribute also to the colleagues who steer and guide the Institute - the Deputy Director (Prof Rebecca Mason), the Chief Operating Officer (Charean Adams), the Officers who lead our Facilities; and the Executive Leadership Group and Advisory Board, who have played critical roles.

Prof Chris Murphy’s support as Head of SoMS continues to provide a foundation for the Institute, which has a firmness of which directors of other institutes can only dream. Our commitment remains - to build from that foundation, to enhance all aspects of our research.

Time and Tide (Departures and Appointments)

  • Dr Ying Ying Su served as a part time microscopy officer to the Advanced Microscopy Facility from 2012-2104
  • Dr Cathy Payne was appointed part time officer to the Advanced Microscopy Facility in 2014 and served until mid-2016
  • Dr Angeles Sanchez Perez has resigned as Officer of the Live Cell Analysis Facility, as of November 2016
    The service of all is warmly acknowledged.
  • Dr Helen Ball has joined the Institute as the foundation Officer for the new Biostatics and Bioinformation Facility; Dr Shirley Nakhla has joined also joined as the Live Cell Analysis Facility Officer, replaces Angeles; and Dr Krishanthi Gunaratnam has joined the Advance Microscopy as Microscopy Officer, replacing Cathy. I welcome them all on board.
  • Not exactly a departure or arrival, but Professor Frank Lovicu has indicated his wish to step down, after many years service, from his role as Mentor to the Bosch Young Investigators. He has made an outstanding contribution to a very important aspect of our work. Dr Aaron Camp will take on this role, assisted by Associate Professor Matt Naylor. My warmest thanks go to Frank, and I am delighted that Aaron (himself once a BYI) and Matt will pick up the reins.

Notes from 2016

  • The Advanced Microscope Facility has had valuable recent grant success, with a slide scanner system and a light-sheet microscope purchased and deployed, and a super-resolution confocal (Zeiss LSM 800) on order, for deployment early in 2017.
  • The Molecular Biology Facility has also had impressive grant success, and is growing its equipment base rapidly. Its user numbers grew spectacularly, to 450 in 2014 and then fell in 2015, to 350. This fall coincided with the move of many Bosch laboratories to the CPC, where significant molecular biology equipment has been provided without charge to users. In response, the MBF – which remains our most-subscribed Facility and has retained 2105 user levels through 2016 – has expanded its service-for-fee work, has attracted and been able to accommodate external users, paying significant fees. As a result, it has built its income, equipment acquisitions continue apace and it remains highly successful and still unique on campus.
  • The Animal Behaviour Facility is also still unique on campus. In recent years it has acquired a second Intellicage system, Rotarod and DigiGait systems for the assessment of motor behavior and touch-screen equipment – the latest way of following mouse behaviour. These acquisitions will ensure that the Facility grows strongly over the next several years.
  • The Mass Spectrometry Facility has been restructured, and is now operating successfully to provide mass spectrometry services and related platforms, including HPLC. User numbers peaked in 2014, falling in 2015 when the University launched a Core Mass Spectrometry Facility. Numbers stabilized in 2016, however, and this technology has proved particularly suitable for service-for-fees. In late 2016, an application for funding for a much-needed second ‘triple quad’ spectrometer was successful; the procurement process is under way.
  • The Live Cell Analysis Facility has grown by a generous donation of equipment by a previous Director, Professor Hunt, and by the acquisition in 2016 of a modern, lower maintenance, 10-channel cytometer, to complement on older 2-channel machine, which had given long and valuable service. The Facility’s technology base has been further expanded to include other live-cell techniques (tissue culture, live cell microscopy), and its user base has been rebuilt, with a growing fee-for-service component.
  • Late in 2015, a Biostatistics and Bioinformatics (‘Bio2’) Facility was established, again with a three-year salary grant from the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund. At the time of writing it has been functioning for a year, has established a growing user, and has provided many low-cost workshops in both statistics and bioinformatics.
  • The Chief Operating Officer has managed all these changes and their appointments at the Institute level, a major task. She has also initiated regular Facility Officer Meetings, which have proved effective in developing the patterns of management, user relations and financial structure of the Facilities.
  • The governance of the Institute has been stable through these many changes: the Director, Deputy Director and COO are advised by an Advisory Board, chaired by Mr Paul Fegan, by the Executive Leadership Group, by the BYI Mentor and by twice-yearly ‘town hall’ meetings. All are important and valuable; their advice has been quietly given and much heeded.
  • In all these changes, we have tried to adapt creatively to the opportunities and challenges we face, maintaining high-quality, diverse, open-access, low-cost platforms, which facilitate research in the School of Medical Sciences, and throughout campus.

The Institute’s Scientific Meetings – Our Intellectual Infrastructure

Over recent years we have developed the Institute’s intellectual infrastructure. Members now meet regularly at 5 levels:

The Annual Scientific Meeting
These one-day meetings bring members, and national and international visitors together for theme-based meetings, reviewing research in a major area of biomedical science, and presenting new work. Since my last newsletter, the ASMs were:
2015: Canceromics: from Molecular and Cellular Biology to Breakthrough Therapeutics
2016: Ideas and Technology: Engines of Discovery
Detail of these and earlier Meetings can be found at: http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/bosch/events/scientific-meeting/index.php

The Young Investigator’s Meeting
These one-day meetings, also held annually are for Bosch YIs – a chance for them to present new work, to network among the Institute’s laboratories (which are widely distributed through the University’s campuses), and develop presentational skills.

Distinguished Seminars
These are held once each semester, usually with one speaker from campus and the other external. Recent Distinguished Speakers and details of their seminars give can be found at: http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/bosch/events/seminars/index.php

Facility Workshops
Organised by the Facility officers, these half-day meetings are an opportunity for young scientists to present work based on our Facilities. These meetings have a natural emphasis on techniques, exploring the capabilities of the available equipment.

Young Investigator Seminars
Organised by young investigators, these are the least formal of the meetings – opportunities to present thesis work in progress, in an accepting but not totally uncritical environment.

Looking ahead
No institute (or university or any human organisation) deserves to be here next year, just because it is here this year. Our Institute deserves to continue only if it continues to do the job that its member laboratories want done. That job is to facilitate biomedical discovery, always in line with the University’s research priorities, and I believe we are doing it. Recent growth in our research productivity (work published, students trained, infrastructure built), and the low administrative costs of our networked structure, are evidence that we are pioneering better (more cost-effective) ways of ‘delivering knowledge’. I remain confident that the Institute will continue to prosper and grow, as long as we continue to put our energy and intellectual resources into its work.