Selection Criteria for Collaborations
- Scientific quality and impact of the project;
- Bringing new challenges to core technologies;
- Synergy with core projects;
- Relevance of expertise from the cores;
- Is the core technology "enabling" for the intended application;
- Potential for clinical translation and broader impact;
- Potential for commercialization;
- Independently funded and NIH profile of the investigator;
- Balance among the themes of collaborations (clinical, biological sciences, computational, technological);
- Balance of investigator-driven vs. large-scale collaborations;
- New Investigators.
The selection process for collaborations starts with a proposal that is screened by the Associate Director, analyzed by the Administrative Board and vetted by the Scientific Advisory board for relevance and synergy to the TR&D Cores. A similar process is used for Service Requests, with the difference that these are not vetted by the SAB and, if appropriate, started before the Administrative Board analysis, which still has the final decision.
We require potential collaborators to write a 1-3 pages document outlining the significance of the project and potential implementation challenges. We evaluate the proposed projects and select collaborators based on several criteria presented in Table 2. The hierarchy of importance between the different criteria is however flexible. While one important selection criteria is the fit with the overall mission of the BMRC, we have taken on projects that are targeting unexplored areas for microfluidic technologies. For example, we collaborated closely with Dr. Roman Stoker (MIT) for several years to design new systems for studying the ecology of marine bacteria, focused and building our expertise in controlling chemical gradients at microscale. The collaboration was phased out gradually, while Dr. Stoker group built up the expertise and found internal resources for microfabrication within MIT.
We are very sensitive to the potential for broad clinical impact, especially for the translational aspect of clinical collaborations. One such example is the new collaboration started with Drs. Bill Rodriguez (MGH) and Scott Manalis (MIT) towards developing new diagnostic systems for measuring viral load in HIV infection, with potential to impact the diagnostic of other viral infections as well. Other important criteria are the novelty of the challenges and the integration of expertise between cores, the national distribution of collaborators, the past productivity and NIH funding of the investigator. The balance of the current portfolio of collaborations (and services) reflects the systematic pursuit of these criteria.
To implement the decision process as described above, we formalized a selection and decision structure (Fig.2). The Associate Director is the first contact point for potential new collaborators, and receives and reviews all requests for collaborations and written proposals. Dr. Irimia will work together with the other Core Investigators (Drs. Toner, Yarmush, Stott, Uygun, Konry) for the final selection of the collaboration requests that will be discussed by the Administrative Board at the quarterly meetings. The portfolio of potential collaborations will later be presented at the annual SAB meeting. If a request for collaboration is made more than 6 months prior to the following SAB meeting, a temporary decision will be made by the Administrative Board, which will then be sanctioned by the SAB at the next meeting. In several occasions, we also requested SAB approval using email distribution of the paperwork followed by a brief conference call. For collaborations that are not selected to be pursued, the collaborator receives detailed written and verbal feedback from the BMRC.
After collaborations are started, we annually assess the performance and evaluate the outcome of the collaborations in which BMRC is participating. The assessment is based on approaches used in higher education (Lehr and Ruben, 1999 - Excellence in higher Education 2000) and consists of 4 steps, of which the first 3 are performed prior to the SAB meeting.  We perform a self-assessment of the collaborations. To this end, we use a two tier evaluation strategy has been implemented at the center. First, we make an overall evaluation of all the collaborations based on the balance between collaboration themes, publications, new NIH funding, impact in biomedical sciences, impact in core technologies, and demographics. Second, we evaluate individual collaborations for joint publications, "win-win" outcome, and quality of research.
This assessment, performed by the BMRC faculty and discussed during the bi-monthly operations committee meetings, is also presented to the SAB during the annual meeting.  Based on our self-assessment of the productivity and fit of various collaborations, we generate a list of prioritization and the areas where improvement is necessary. The improvement might be either something BMRC needs to accomplish (e.g., quality control for some devices, faster turnaround for devices, etc) or the collaborator (e.g., productivity, publication, higher level of commitment, etc.)  Based on the self assessment and the subsequent prioritization and improvement strategies, we develop an implementation plan to enhance our collaborative activities. This plan is then presented at the SAB meeting.  The SAB monitors the accomplishments and output, and gives feedback on prioritizing and planning of the BMRC activities. SAB also provides input regarding the integration with the general mission of the BMRC. A decision is then made on the continuation or phasing-out of each individual collaborative project.
A unique strength of BMRC is the ability to quickly take on projects in clinical, science, or technology areas. During the first nine years, at BMRC we have tried to accommodate most of the service requests and only now we are reaching a saturation limit. The types of services provided include: (1) external services for fee-for-service to supply materials and microdevices, and (2) in-house services implemented at the BMRC and involves a training session for the service user. All service requests are first reviewed by Dr. Irimia, the overall coordinator of collaborative and service projects. Two important criteria for selecting service requests are (1) the fit within the capabilities of the BMRC, and (2) the significant application of the core technology.
Consequently, most service requests can be accomplished using "off-the-shelf" device designs with minimal modifications to address specific needs. New designs will be developed only for projects with potential to advance biological understanding or important clinical applications. It is noteworthy that several current collaborators started as service users, including Mark Poznansky (MGH) and Sarah Fortune (Brigham and Women's Hospital). This mechanism of recruiting collaborators from among service users provides us with an excellent filter to select collaborations that are productive.
The service projects could also represent an effective way of continuation for former collaborations that matured. For example, our work with Dr. Linc Moldawer (University of Florida) started as collaboration in the larger framework of the NIH Large Scale Collaborative Program in Inflammation and Host Response to Injury, has resulted in the development of the neutrophil chips that are now robust, well documented in publications and online videos, and provided as service to NIH investigators. In the future, we plan to maintain a steady number of service projects to an average of 15-20/year by implementing additional criteria for selecting service projects and a review process by the Administrative Board.
Ad-hoc training is targeted to a particular research goal and is tailored to specific device microfabrication and/or user challenges. The ad-hoc training starts with filling out the application form and submitting to Dr. Irimia. Drs. Toner, Irimia, and Mr. Hurtado review the applications and decide on a schedule for training, or recommend the attendance of the BMRC workshop. New users are highly encouraged to study protocols (available on the website) prior to training. Training is supervised and coordinated by Mr. Hurtado. Experienced, senior postdoctoral fellows are recruited for the training on specialized procedures. General training and overview of safety and proper behavior in the clean room are usually provided by Mrs. Maedeh or Mr. Hurtado, our clean room managers. An informal exam at the end of the training period tests that the trainee is able to perform correctly all the target procedures. Hands-on training is part of a structured teaching program e.g. within the workshop, and is limited to a small set of procedures and applications.
In addition to clean room related activities collaborators must review the lab safety and bloodborne pathogen training information (which can be found at the bottom of this page) in order to conduct work in our facilities.