Lab Services Initiative Helps UCSF Facilities Support Research

By Robert Hood on May 13, 2020


As manager of the Blackburn Lab in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Dana Smith understands the value of research.

At the outset of the university’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, one of the -80 ˚C ultra-low temperature freezers in Smith’s lab failed. “Many of the samples in that freezer are irreplaceable,” she said. “For example, just one collection is 4,000 blood samples: three timepoints taken over three years from 1,400 individuals In 85 different locations, then collected and sent to our humble freezer. There is no way that study could be repeated.”

Thankfully for Smith, the lab is part of UCSF’s Lab Services Initiative and participates in freezer temperature monitoring. UCSF Facilities Services was remotely monitoring the freezer and alerted Smith to the problem. “Had we not been participating in the university’s Lab Services Initiative I would have lost the samples from many of our ongoing collaborations.”

Facilities Services at UCSF is closely connected to the lab research community as it relates to building infrastructure support for labs. Over the years, UCSF Facilities Services has assisted with the coordination and maintenance, repair, and testing for eye-wash stations, cold rooms, fume hoods, bio-safety cabinets, autoclaves, freezers and more.

“I couldn’t be more pleased about our progress in partnering with the research community,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor, Campus Life Services, Jon Giacomi. “We want our facilities department to be viewed as a true ally in making UCSF a great place to do research. We have a ways to go still, but this has been a great start.”

Lab Services is a new branch of Facilities Services dedicated solely to supporting lab equipment and space. “The Lab Services Initiative is an effort to coordinate centrally with all of the labs throughout campus to provide more reliable, cost-effective service to reduce equipment downtime and failure,” said Facilities Services Associate Director Adam Schnirel.

Schnirel sits on the university’s 50-member Lab Manager Steering Committee, which includes 18 lab managers from around campus. It also includes representatives from various UCSF organizations including Environmental Health & Safety, Information Technology, Supply Chain Management, Logistics, Human Resources, and UC Police Department.

The Lab Manager Steering Committee meets once a month to discuss topics that impact researchers at UCSF and its mission is to ensure that that research community has a voice in the development and implementation of policies, operations, and regulations pertaining to laboratory research.

Fraser Conrad, a project and policy analyst and manager in the Marks Lab at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, said Schnirel has been an invaluable asset to lab managers. “In many ways, the Lab Services Initiative itself is a very significant part of that,” Conrad said.

Research Lab FreezerConrad currently co-chairs the Lab Manager Steering Committee along with Kari Herrington, a specialist at the Nikon Imaging Center at UCSF. Conrad said equipment maintenance is expensive for labs in terms of both time and money, and the full financial costs are often not accounted for in grant funding. “This initiative is a huge relief in that area, both in practical terms and with regard to mental stress,” he said. “Keeping freezers seismically safe, powered, and at temperature 24 hours a day is essential to any group with cryogenic storage needs.”

Conrad said that having Facilities Services provide maintenance for important lab infrastructure frees up lab managers to spend more time managing the labs and allows researchers to work on research projects.

The Lab Services Initiative began in 2019 and is directed by the Lab Managers Steering Committee. Facilities managers and campus engineers play a vital role in assessing and repairing lab infrastructure. Over the years, UCSF Facilities Services has coordinated with labs for the maintenance, repair and testing of eye-wash stations, cold rooms, fume hoods, bio-safety cabinets, autoclaves, freezers and more. Today, the Lab Services Initiative provides:

* Monitoring for 137 freezers, testing two software and one hardware application, in more than 35 different labs
* Free seismic bracing for common lab equipment including gas tanks, incubators, freezers/refrigerators, Pyxis units, bio-safety cabinets, and more
* Assessment of emergency power including a review of electrical plans and existing “red” emergency power plugs and whether the lab needs   additional e-power capacity

Smith said she has a close relationship with the facilities managers and engineers that work with her lab. “During a recent ‘refresh’ of facilities in my building, I helped coordinate communication for the different labs in my part of the building.” That relationship helped ensure that painting, floor replacement, seismic bracing, cold room replacement, and liquid nitrogen relocation went smoothly.

The strong relationship between Facilities Services, the Lab Managers Steering Committee, and lab personnel has played a vital role in supporting research during the COVID-19 crisis. Without access to their labs, lab personnel have relied on facilities staff for the following:

* Regular temperature monitoring for -80 ˚C ultra-low temperature freezers
* Providing building access for deliveries and coordinating with the UC Police Department to ensure lab gasses are available for essential equipment
* Leading COVID-19 essential maintenance and small projects to support lab alterations to assist with COVID-19 research
* Providing enhanced cleaning for high-touch areas through labs and buildings
* Connecting lab issues with the Emergency Operations Center through Facilities Services leadership

Schnirel said UCSF Facilities Services is committed to helping research labs moving forward. “We’re going to continue to find ways to make lab research support easy to understand, cost effective, and efficient,” he said. “We also want to communicate more effectively with labs and researchers about lab infrastructure, project requirements and the services we can provide. We’ll also continue to advocate for standard details and building permits for labs, gas lines, electrical/low voltage, seismic bracing and more.”