Core labs are important assets to academic institutions. They are concentrated pockets of experts, to whom scientists can outsource specific parts of their projects. Core labs also provide access to technology that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive for an individual lab to purchase and maintain.
Microscopes and other imaging equipment are big ticket items that can be shared by many users, and therefore are a valuable core lab resource. While individual labs will always have their own microscopes, keeping up with cutting edge confocal microscopy or other advanced imaging capabilities is cost prohibitive for most labs, especially in the current funding environment.
Imaging core labs vary from one university to the next in terms of the equipment that they support. For basic science needs, a few good confocal microscopes are pretty standard, as are software programs that can be used to create 3D renderings of the images. Putting such software programs in a core facility is useful because these packages can be quite expensive, and they often require a dedicated computer to run. They also take time to learn, but core lab staff can help users learn how to manipulate raw data files to extract more information from them.
Some imaging core facilities offer advanced imaging modalities for specific lines of research. This includes specialized equipment used for medical research. For example, the Cardiovascular Imaging Core Laboratory at University Hospitals Harrington Heart and Vascular Institute offers optical coherence tomography for looking inside patient’s blood vessels. The National Eye Institute has an imaging core that includes a Laser Capture Micro-dissection System and Fundus Imaging System, all for working in the rodent eye. Penn State has a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) core lab that is for use in both human and animal research.
Imaging is a critical component of medical research, at all stages. Core labs provide imaging services with the latest technology that may not be accessible elsewhere. If you are looking to do imaging, it is most practical to seek out core labs in close proximity to where you are located. They can be found at both basic science and medical centers around the world.
Useful Links to Core Facilities