Last updated on January 19, 2023 by
Benefits & Drawbacks
It’s amazing—and often exasperating—how much equipment scientists actually need to complete their research.
If you’re lucky, you only need a few instruments and a small amount of bench space to collect significant, eye opening data that shows the potential of your new idea. However, if you need a whole range of specialized research equipment and access to a number of facilities and resources to hit your latest milestone, things can get complicated. And expensive.
Buying the equipment you need and expanding into new spaces to accommodate your research can cost a lot. It’s possible you don’t have the budget on hand to account for those extra expenses, which can feel like being in between a rock and a hard place.
Thankfully, when that’s the case, you’ve got a couple of options, including leasing lab equipment, outsourcing research, or even working in a core lab, also known as a shared resource laboratory or core facility.
These centralized research facilities provide a way for both academic researchers and external customers to access specialized, often cutting-edge technologies and lab equipment that can help them with basic and translational research. Like leasing, using a shared resource lab can be an economic alternative to buying or purchasing your equipment using cash or a loan.
In this article, we review core labs, the equipment and services they offer, the types of research they can support, and more.
With a stronger understanding of what a core lab is and how it can help you, you’ll have an easier time deciding how to continue conducting your research when you’re in need of specific equipment or resources that you don’t have in-house.
What Is a Core Lab?
Core laboratories provide access to specialized equipment that researchers may not have available in their own labs. The facilities are typically found in and operated by research institutions, but there are numerous core labs run by other organizations and government agencies as well.
In addition to lab equipment, core labs offer a broad range of services, such as advanced imaging, genomics, proteomics, histology, and tissue culture and support research in a variety of scientific fields and disciplines. The types of services available will depend upon the core facility’s experience and expertise.
Core labs are typically staffed by trained professionals who are skilled in the use of the equipment and techniques offered by the lab and can provide support and guidance to researchers who use the facilities.
Some of the key functions of a core lab facility include providing access to cutting-edge, often high-throughput equipment and experienced scientists, offering training and support, providing shared resources, and collaborating/knowledge sharing. This can greatly reduce the equipment and labor costs for smaller, individual labs and make close collaboration between researchers from different disciplines or institutions possible.
Specialized Equipment & Expertise
Core labs have a range of specialized equipment and expertise that can be used to support research. This may include advanced imaging equipment, histology, genomics, and proteomics equipment, tissue culture facilities, analytical chemistry equipment, as well as data analysis software and services.
Training & Support
As mentioned, core labs are typically staffed by trained professionals who are skilled in the use of the equipment and techniques the facility provides. These professionals can provide support, guidance, and more when it comes time to conduct your experiments and analyze data.
Core labs often provide shared resources, such as common reagents, cell lines, and animals, that can be used by multiple researchers. This helps to reduce the costs and time required for research, and can facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among researchers.
Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing
Core labs often offer consulting services to researchers who need help with developing their research plans or with analyzing data. This supports collaboration between researchers when needed, helping everyone to share knowledge and expertise, work together on projects, and take advantage of the research community within and surrounding the facility.
What Types of Research Do Core Labs Support & Conduct?
Core labs can help with a wide range of research, including basic, applied, and translational, and can even support investigators engaged in clinical trials. The types of research a research facility can support will change from facility to facility, but can include a variety of fields such as biology, biochemistry, biomedical engineering, chemistry, and the safety and efficacy of drugs and medical devices.
If you’re conducting biology research, core facilities can provide guidance and support with studies and assays of cells, tissues, and organisms. If your area of focus is biochemistry, a core lab can help with studies of the structure and function of biomolecules.
Core laboratories that support biomedical engineering can provide support for studies of medical devices and implants. If it’s chemistry you’re working on, a facility can provide support for studies of the properties and reactions of chemicals.
Whatever type of research you’re conducting, it’s likely there is a core lab out there that can help you conduct complex and specialized experiments and analyze data.
What Services Do Core Facilities Offer?
Core labs can help biotech and pharma companies by providing services such as advanced imaging, genomics and proteomics, tissue culture, and data analysis. Pharmaceutical companies often rely on core labs as well to help with the development and testing of their products.
Core labs can be an invaluable resource for pharmaceutical companies that need to conduct complex or specialized experiments. Services that can help pharma companies include imaging, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, drug formulation and stability testing, and more.
Core labs may have advanced imaging equipment, such as electron microscopes and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, which can be used to study the structure and function of biomolecules. Electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy can be used to study the structure and function of drugs.
Genomics & Proteomics
Core labs can offer services related to genomics and proteomics, such as DNA sequencing, gene expression analysis, and protein characterization.
Core labs may have tissue culture facilities, which can be used to grow cells and tissues for use in experiments.
Data Analysis & Bioinformatics
Core labs may offer high-performance computing equipment and data analysis services, such as statistical analysis, bioinformatics, biostatistics, and data management, which can help pharmaceutical and biotech companies to analyze and interpret their data.
Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics
Core labs may offer services related to drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, such as metabolism studies, bioavailability studies, and pharmacokinetic modeling.
Drug Formulation & Stability Testing
Core labs may have equipment and facilities for the formulation and stability testing of drugs, including equipment for mixing, blending, and filling.
You Can Get Specific Too
You can get very specific about the help you need as well. For instance, if you need assistance with a researcher that requires flow cytometry, certain core lab facilities can help. Flow cytometry is a technique that is used to analyze the physical and chemical properties of cells or particles in a fluid stream. It is a powerful tool for studying cells, tissues, and other biological samples, and it can be used for applications such as cell sorting, immunophenotyping, and apoptosis analysis.
Many core labs offer flow cytometry services and will have well-maintained, up-to-date flow cytometers and cell sorters that can be used to conduct experiments.
In addition to providing access to specific equipment, core labs may also provide training and support for researchers who want to learn how to perform and use flow cytometry. Because these facilities are usually staffed by trained professionals skilled in the use of the equipment and techniques offered by the lab, they can provide very specific support and guidance to researchers who use the facilities. This is particularly useful for anyone who is new to flow cytometry or who needs help with data analysis.
Another example includes mass spectrometry. Mass spectrometry is a technique that is used to measure the mass and concentration of molecules in a sample. It is a powerful tool for studying the structure and function of biomolecules, and it can be used for applications such as protein identification, drug metabolism studies, and environmental analysis.
Some core labs offer mass spectrometry for researchers who need to conduct complex or specialized experiments that involve the technique. The lab will have equipment such as mass spectrometers and ionization sources that can be used to conduct mass spectrometry experiments.
Additionally, core labs may also provide training and support for researchers who want to learn how to use mass spectrometry.
Core labs offer microscopy services as well. Microscopy is a technique that is used to magnify and visualize small objects, such as cells and tissues, that are not visible to the naked eye. It is a powerful tool for studying biological samples, and it can be used for applications such as cell counting, tissue imaging, and organelle identification.
Many core facilities have equipment such as light microscopes, confocal microscopes, and electron microscopes that can be used to conduct microscopy experiments.
Do Core Labs Provide Additional Resources?
Yes, in addition to providing access to specialized equipment and services, core labs can also provide additional shared resources that researchers can use to advance their work. These can include common reagents, cell lines, and animals for experiments, helping reduce the costs and time required for research. These resources can help to reduce the costs and time required for research, and they can also facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among researchers.
Core labs often stock a range of common reagents, such as enzymes, antibodies, and dyes, that can be used in experiments. These reagents can be expensive and time-consuming to obtain, and having them readily available in the core facility can save researchers time and money.
Core laboratories might have a collection of cell lines that you can use in your experiments. Cell lines are cultures of cells that have been grown in the lab and can be used as a source of cells for experiments. Having a collection available in the lab can save you the time and effort of isolating cells from tissue samples.
Core labs may also have animals that can be used for research purposes. Because animal models are commonly used in research to study the effects of drugs and other interventions, having a breeding colony of animals available can save researchers time and energy obtaining and maintaining their own animal colonies.
When Does it Make Sense to Use a Core Lab?
You should consider using a core lab to help with research when your own lab does not have the equipment or expertise necessary to conduct your experiments or analyze your data.
When deciding whether to use a core lab, you should consider factors such as the availability of the equipment or expertise you need in your own lab, the cost and time required to obtain the equipment or expertise, and the quality of the services offered by the core facility.
It can also be helpful to consult with a colleague or fellow researcher who has experience working with core labs to get their input and advice.
What are the Benefits & Drawbacks?
Like working with a contract manufacturing organization (CMO) or contract research organization (CRO), there are benefits and drawbacks to using a core facility for research. They can be an invaluable resource for researchers who need to conduct complex or specialized experiments. However, there are also some potential drawbacks to using a core facility, including cost and scheduling challenges.
Benefits of using a core facility for research include:
- Specialized equipment: Core facilities provide researchers with access to specialized equipment that they don’t have available in their own lab, including flow cytometers, mass spectrometers, PCR machines, and more. Without access to the research equipment you need, conducting experiments can be impossible.
- Shared resources: These include common reagents, cell lines, and more that can be used by multiple researchers, helping reduce the costs and time required for research. It can also facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among researchers.
- Training and support: When you work at a Core lab, you can lean on the experience and expertise of the trained professionals staffing the facility. The support and guidance can ensure you conduct your experiments successfully.
Drawbacks of using a core facility for research include:
- Cost: Core facilities may charge fees for their services, which can add to the overall cost of a research project. This may be a particular concern for researchers who are working on tight budgets.
- Scheduling challenges: These facilities are often in high demand, and researchers may have to wait to use the equipment or facilities they need. This can delay the progress of a research project, and it can also be frustrating for researchers who are eager to conduct their experiments.
- Dependence on external facilities: Researchers who use core facilities may become dependent on the equipment and expertise provided by the core lab. This can be a disadvantage if the core lab is unavailable for any reason, or if the researcher needs to conduct experiments outside of the facility’s normal hours of operation.
Is It Better to Use a CRO or a Core Lab?
Whether it is better to use a core lab facility or contract research organization (CRO) will depend on your specific research needs and circumstances. Both core labs and CROs can provide valuable services to researchers, but they have different strengths and weaknesses, and the best choice for you will depend on factors such as the type of research you are conducting, the availability of equipment and expertise, and the cost and time required to obtain the services you need.
Using a core lab can be a good option if you need access to specialized equipment and expertise on a regular basis, and if you have the time and resources to conduct your experiments in the core lab.
On the other hand, using a CRO can be a good option if you are conducting clinical research or drug development, and if you need access to a range of services that are not available in your own lab. CROs are companies that provide a range of services to support drug development and clinical research. CROs generally offer services like drug discovery, preclinical and clinical development, regulatory affairs, and data management.
Use a Core Facility or Lease Lab Equipment?
Both options have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for you will depend on factors such as the availability of equipment and expertise in your own lab, the cost and time required to obtain the equipment and expertise, and the quality of the services offered by the core lab.
Core labs are useful for researchers who are new to a particular technique or who need help with data analysis. However, using a core lab can also be more expensive than leasing equipment, and there may be scheduling challenges if the core lab is in high demand.
Leasing lab equipment can be a good option if you’re planning on performing your research in-house in order to develop your business and become self-reliant. Leasing can be more cost-effective than purchasing equipment outright, and it can also provide flexibility, as you can choose to lease different types of equipment as needed.
It’s always helpful to consult with colleagues or other researchers who have experience with both options to get their input and advice.