Newest ABRF Chapter Holds First Meeting at the Advanced Technology Research Facility

Speaker addressing audience

MADSCCi’s first president, Belynda Hicks, director of production operations, Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory, SAIC-Frederick, FNLCR, welcomed attendees to the first annual meeting in June.

The newest chapter of the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) held its first annual meeting at the Advanced Technology Research Facility (ATRF), Frederick, Md., June 12–14, 2013.

Known as the Mid-Atlantic Directors and Staff of Scientific Cores (MADSSCi), the chapter was officially recognized earlier this year by ABRF, a national organization of scientists in resource and research biotechnology laboratories, with members from more than 140 core laboratories in government, academia, research, industry, and commercial settings, according to its website ( ).

The chapter’s primary goal is to provide opportunities for networking, as well as obtaining training and/or advanced technical information for core directors, managers, and staff, all in a regional setting, according to Belynda Hicks, director of production operations, Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory, SAIC-Frederick, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR), and the chapter’s first president.

“Combining the focus of the ABRF mission with the intimacy of a regional chapter seemed like a logical evolution,” said Hicks. MADSSCi was formed by a small group of individuals from local institutions (including FNLCR, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University), who had been active in national and regional meetings of the ABRF, she said.

Group of people talking.

The MADSCCi meeting afforded opportunities for networking.

Meeting Fostered Information Exchange

Hosted by FNLCR and the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, the inaugural meeting brought together approximately 140 scientific and administrative directors and staff from both academic and government core facilities from throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

A full day of pre-meeting workshops showcased some of the newest developments from the vendors supporting the meeting, according to Hicks.  Attendees “were able to see live demos from iLab Solutions utilizing the ATRF computer lab.  New products from Illumina, Life Technologies, IntegenX, and Sigma were introduced, and scientific overviews of existing technology were provided,” she said.

Late-afternoon tours of the core facility laboratories at the ATRF highlighted the Advanced Technology Program’s (ATP’s) imaging, nanotechnology, genomics, and proteomics labs, as well as the Biopharmaceutical Development Program (BDP) laboratories.  The day closed with a welcoming reception for all registrants, speakers, and vendors (hosted by Illumina).

Craig Reynolds, Ph.D., NCI associate director, NCI at Frederick, welcomed attendees to the Advanced Technology Research Facility.

Craig Reynolds, Ph.D., NCI associate director, NCI at Frederick, welcomed attendees to the Advanced Technology Research Facility.

Showcasing the ATRF

The meeting kicked off with opening remarks from the leaders of both host organizations. Craig Reynolds, Ph.D., NCI associate director, NCI at Frederick, noted that the ATRF was purposefully designed for meetings such as this one, “where we could bring in local thought leaders…[and] have space available for partnerships.”

David Heimbrook, Ph.D., chief executive officer, SAIC-Frederick, FNLCR, emphasized that “one of the key elements of the design of this building was to build long-term relationships, especially with regional cancer centers and regional cores.” He also pointed out that the hub of NCI’s mission to target Ras and Ras-driven cancers is centered in the ATRF laboratories.

Speaker addressing audience.

In his welcoming remarks, Dave Heimbrook, Ph.D., chief executive officer, SAIC-Frederick, encouraged attendees to consider partnership opportunities.

Talks and Breakout Sessions Provided Something for Everyone
Each day of the meeting began with scientific talks followed by smaller group sessions on specific issues or areas of research.

Keynote speaker Meredith Yeager, Ph.D. principal scientist, Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory, SAIC-Frederick, FNLCR, opened the talks on the first day with current perspectives in genomics research. Yeager was followed by Scott McNeil, Ph.D., scientific director, Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL), SAIC-Frederick, FNLCR, who presented an overview of the NCL, with a discussion of observed trends and an illustration of the effect of physical parameters on nanoparticle biocompatibility and toxicity.

Day two opened with an overview of clinical proteomics in biomarker research by Josip Blonder, M.D., Clinical Proteomics Group, SAIC-Frederick, FNLCR.

Throughout both days, 17 concurrent sessions and panel discussions were presented by nearly 50 leaders from NCI and FNLCR, as well as from scientific organizations throughout the region. “It was important to have enough local expertise speaking so that we could generate the opportunities for regional networking and collaboration that is the backbone of the MADSSCi mission,” Hicks said.

The sessions covered a diverse range of topics, from metabolomics, flow cytometry, next-gen sequencing, bioinformatics, cloud computing, and more, to quality, management, business, and other administrative issues facing the staff of core facilities.

See caption for details.

Attendees in discussion over lunch in the atrium.

Networking, Partnership Opportunities
A poster session at the end of the first day (hosted by Sigma) provided an excellent forum for networking with fellow core facility staff from the mid-Atlantic region. Vendor displays throughout the ATRF’s atrium offered attendees a chance to gather information on equipment and technologies from the companies that supported the meeting.

To promote SAIC-Frederick partnership capabilities and technical service offerings, the Partnership Development Office (PDO) staffed a table among the vendors. Courtney Silverthorn, Ph.D., partnership alliance manager, PDO, felt that some positive connections were made at the meeting, citing “several good conversations” during the networking periods. More importantly, she said, the PDO met with various vendors individually, “and many expressed interest in collaborating with SAIC-Frederick scientists on new research and development activities.”

An Excellent Meeting, by All Accounts

Heimbrook was glad for the opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the scientists at the ATRF. “Besides providing an excellent venue for the meeting participants,” he said, “it also enabled our scientists to show what they do, through lab tours and presentations, to fellow scientists who could become future partners and collaborators. My thanks to the organizers and the participants for what was, by all accounts, an excellent meeting.”

People discussing posters.

Poster session on the first day afforded opportunities for scientific discussions and networking.

Reynolds appreciated the uniqueness of the location. “Hosting the inaugural meeting at the ATRF offered a unique venue for core facility directors and mangers to network with colleagues, to learn about biotechnology advances and applications, and to discuss the challenges and results of implementing shared research resources to the research community,” he said.

Hicks noted the benefit of bringing a diverse group of core laboratory and administrative staff together, especially at a venue like the ATRF. “It was appropriate that the inaugural meeting be held at the ATRF, which was developed to bring together members of various scientific groups to address the complex issues surrounding cancer and AIDS,” she said.  “While there may be many differences between them, all of these organizations deal with the challenges of keeping up with new technologies, coordinating and prioritizing work, customer service issues and budgetary constraints.”

Julie Hartman, program analyst, NCI at Frederick Office of the Director, Office of Scientific Operations, added, “The MADSSCi conference showed how working as a team creates success.  The employees at the NCI at Frederick, which includes a mixture of government and FNLCR individuals, worked together to ensure all requirements were met in welcoming all attendees at the ATRF.”

Special Thanks to…
Hicks and the other meeting organizers would like to recognize specific SAIC-Frederick and Data Management Services (DMS) staff members for their collective and tireless efforts, which resulted in the great success of the inaugural meeting. Special thanks go to:

Facilities Maintenance and Engineering (FME): Janitorial services: Bobby Munday, Vicki Bailey, Al Skoczylas, and Arlyn Boone.  Labor crew: Jabie Plank, David Wiles, and Robbie Jackson.

Protective Services: Front desk security: John Stroka, Chris Ohler, Mike Eichelberger, and Jordan Ledford.  Shuttle services: Tom Gannon-Miller and William Donato.

Computer and Information Services (Data Management Services): Dan Grab, Chris Rippeon, and Ian Motter.

Computer and Information Services (SAIC-Frederick, Information Systems Program): Matthew Lamb.

Warehouse/Receiving: Brian Holt, Matt Humphrey, and Jim McClure.

Conference Center and Events Planning: Colin Celaya, Julia Lam, Heather Leonard, and Tammy Miller.

ATRF Operations: Hoyt Matthai

More information on MADSSCi can be found at  For information on ABRF, go to

By Kathy Miller, Contributing Writer, and Nancy Parrish, Staff Writer

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