Faculty of Medicine

Lund University

Successful research requires good tools

2018-04-19

Without good and varied research infrastructure, my research would stand still, says Malin Parmar.

Professor Malin Parmar is one of the faculty’s successful researchers who has published many research articles and been awarded major grants from the EU, the Swedish Research Council, and others. 

– If the infrastructure I need hadn’t been available or possible to create, I would have moved where it was. Otherwise my productivity would have been much too low, says Malin Parmar.

When Malin Parmar was studying for her PhD in Canada, the research infrastructures were centrally located in the lab. All the research labs faced onto a shared space where the instruments were gathered, accessible to all. It was very simple and obvious. But that was a small institute with a homogeneous research field, where the equipment needs were fairly similar among all the researchers. Here at Lund University, the reality is different and needs vary a great deal. A much greater breadth is required.

malin parmar blaatt ljus hoeg
Malin Parmar, Professor in Cellular Neuroscience, in her laboratory.

But it is important to make the infrastructures accessible, according to Malin Parmar.

– It is preferable to have fewer but better infrastructures than many less good ones, says Malin Parmar.

Malin Parmar herself has mostly used what she refers to as “user-run” infrastructures. Infrastructures that are established and run by a network of researchers. Investments in the Linnaeus environments and strong research fields have benefited infrastructures of this type. But several of these government investments are now drawing to a close and the need for infrastructures remains. Infrastructures are expensive at all stages, to purchase, maintain and ensure expertise for. It requires a lot of time, money and commitment.

Malin Parmar chooses to describe research infrastructure as means of transport for various needs.

– Sometimes the most suitable means is to have your own bicycle. But sometimes you need to use a plane, says Malin Parmar, indicating that certain infrastructures are better if the researcher owns them and has free access to them, whereas other major investments are best shared.

She ponders whether “privately owned cars” (medium-sized infrastructures) couldn’t usefully be converted into a car-sharing scheme, in which several people co-own and share responsibility, expertise and service.

– After all, we don’t compete locally. We should compete nationally and internationally. That requires collaboration and sharing of expertise and equipment. There is no chance that we can compete globally otherwise, and that is where the big funding for long-term investments is usually to be found, says Malin Parmar.

If Malin Parmar were to choose her top 5 infrastructures at Lund University, she would select:

  1. For in vivo work, the Behavioural Platform and the Bacteria Lab, Retroviral Production and Vector Surgery.
  2. For virus production such as lenti and rabies, the AAV platform.
  3. For measurement of fluorescence intensity of particles, FACS at MultiPark
  4. For High content screening and analysis, Cellomics.
  5. Electrophysiology

(These are some examples of the plethora of infrastructures at the faculty, including e.g. StemTherapy FACS Core Facility and FACS at Immunology)

– I also have high hopes for a newly purchased instrument: Light Sheet microscopy. This was purchased by MultiPark, Bagadilico and Stemtherapy together. It is to enable researchers to view all the cells in the brain in 3D, says Malin Pamar.

Malin Parmar’s discoveries within Parkinson’s research required the use of several different infrastructures. In many experiments, she transplanted dopamine-producing cells into the brains of rat models with Parkinson’s disease. She then had these rats tested in various behavioural experiments via behavioural platforms. She then removed these brains and studied them using different microscopes accessible via various platforms. Thanks to platforms for virus production, her research team was rapidly able to develop and broaden its research via the Viral Vector Lab which enabled new methods of marking neurons and their synapses using lentivirus, AAV and rabies virus. The discovery that she could use lentivirus to programme skin cells into functioning dopamine cells is one of her most enjoyable research breakthroughs.

– That the necessary platforms were available locally and could be used almost immediately with the expertise and development that was already there, considerably simplified the work, says Malin Parmar

So the research mostly progresses smoothly with the right infrastructure and expertise on location. If there is something that Malin is missing at Lund University, it is better opportunities for single cell analysis and more bioinformaticians.

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