MISSION. Göran Larson has headed Core Facilities for nine years. During that time, Core Facilities has gone from being a local affair to being part of several national research infrastructures – a development that both pleases him and makes him proud.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a major restructuring. It has been exciting and has taken a lot of time and effort,” Goran Larson says.
The purpose of Core Facilities is to support research by providing advanced competence and infrastructural technology platforms. Core Facilities also offers third-cycle courses in areas such as proteomics, microscopic methods, bioinformatics, statistics, genetic methods and laboratory animal science.
These days Core Facilities services are open to all researchers, both locally and nationally, and, as long as capacity ,to other public agencies, companies and international researchers. But this was not the case initially.
A 2014 a study by the Swedish Research Council showed that the existing infrastructure at universities all over Sweden had poor accessibility and provided too little exchange. To receive continued funding from the Swedish Research Council and the government, it was stipulated that the universities’ infrastructures should be of national benefit. At the same time, the government invested hundreds of millions of Swedish kronor in SciLife Lab with the aim of consolidating all the common large-scale infrastructure for research in Stockholm/Uppsala and making them into world-class platforms. Altogether, this meant that for Core Facilities the issue “to be or not to be” was brought to a head.
“The question was how were we going to survive with our platforms? Were we even needed? It was a matter of finding complementary structures that created a distinctive profile for ourselves,” says Göran Larson. “What were we really good at?”
Göran and his staff determined which parts could be of national interest and which were not sufficiently competitive. Of the seven platforms that existed then, they kept five, discontinued one and let Sahlgrenska Hospital take over the seventh. Of the five that were retained, four have been established in national infrastructures.
Proud over the platforms
Microscopic analyses of cell structures take place at the Centre for Cellular Imaging (CCI). CCI is included in the National Network Infrastructure, or NMI.
Bioinformatics handles enormous amounts of data, analyzes, stores data and produces statistics. This platform is part of National Bioinformatics Infrastructure Sweden (NBIS).
The Proteomics platform performs mass spectrometric analysis of proteins at the molecular level to identify and characterize the proteins in cells, tissues and biological fluids. Proteomics is part of the Swedish National Infrastructure for Biological Mass Spectrometry (BIOMS).
“I’m proud of these platforms and the networks in which they are included,” Göran says with a smile.
Mammalian Protein Expression (MPE), which produces protein in animal cells, also is part of a national network.
The EBM laboratory animal operation, Laboratory for Experimental Biomedicine, and the National Infrastructure for Laboratory Animal Research (NILAR) have not yet received grants from the Swedish Research Council.
“We were rejected because the infrastructure was not considered sufficiently scientific. We have now hired three new PhD unit heads at EBM in order to make the operation more scholarly and improve the dialog with researchers even further.”
Listen to the researchers
It will be a challenge for the incoming director to step in, and Göran sends along some good advice.
“Our methods have to be the latest in research technology. Therefore, it’s extremely important to keep in close touch with the researchers and their needs.”
Göran Larson is satisfied with the Core Facilities he’s handing over. He has, as he points out repeatedly, a fantastic staff that has contributed to the development of Core Facilities. They were a great support in the difficult decision to discontinue the Centre for Physiology and Bio-Imaging (CPI). It was a trying time when employees were given notice.
Turning over Genomics to Sahlgrenska Hospital was also painful, even though Göran came to the conclusion that it was the only way to keep the technology close at hand.
“Through collaboration with Sahlgrenska Hospital, our talented researchers in infectious and metabolic diseases still had access to advanced genetic analysis through Genomics.”
It’s rather chilly in the office, and after a while Göran puts on his quilted jacket. But even if the room temperature is cool, the work climate is hot, Göran points out. It’s something he consciously tries to achieve.
“As the director, you set the tone in a workplace. I’m an open person and want to have an open and inclusive climate. I need criticism as feedback to be able to do a good job.
“Being a director is a matter of both leadership and stewardship. It’s important to make things easier for employees, to give them access to their networks and help them as best you can.”
Before he accepted the assignment as head of Core Facilities in 2009, he had been the division head for Laboratory Medicine at Sahlgrenska for 10 years, plus a two-year interlude in Linköping at the government’s forensic science laboratory.
“As a division head, I learned that if you run too fast, it becomes very lonely out there in front. You have to be able to step back when you make mistakes. Not everything turns into a success. That’s just the way it is.”
Göran also learned the consequences of quitting as director.
“Being the boss is constant affirmation. Everyone wants to hear your opinion. When I quit, it was an unexpected vacuum.”
Another insight was that when you quit as director, you no longer have any responsibility. The things you’ve introduced, the next director can quickly totally change.
“That happened at my old job, and I became morose then, but now I’m prepared. We have woven our platforms into national infrastructures and have good managers and staff members. That’s why I believe Core Facilities, with its new director, will evolve in a positive direction for a long time to come.”
Right now there is a generational shift within Sahlgrenska Academy, with five of the six department heads departing around the same time. Göran finishes his assignment as director at the end of June. Then he and his own research group in the Department of Clinical Chemistry and Transfusion Medicine will focus wholeheartedly on research on winter vomiting disease and complex carbohydrates, a field of interest he already decided on as a medical student through his charismatic teacher Karl-Anders Kacka Karlsson.
“But it was my teacher named Karin who got me interested in chemistry and microbiology when I was still in lower-secondary school. She had an enthusiasm that was infectious. Meeting teachers like Karin and Kacka was crucial for me. The fact is, that’s probably why I still remain at the molecular level,” Göran says and laughs.
TEXT AND PHOTO: ANNA REHNBERG