For cutting-edge life science, research infrastructures are becoming more and more important - and expensive. The HiLIFE Research Infrastructure Assessment (HiLIFE-RIA) was carried out to enhance and focus support to outstanding research.

The HiLIFE Research Infrastructure Assessment (HiLIFE-RIA) included an international evaluation of core facilities, research stations, biobanks, collections, and virtual resources. For this, individual Life Science Research Infrastructures (LSRIs) within University of Helsinki formed platforms to exchange ideas and instruments, provide improved services, and enhance national and international collaboration.

HiLIFE-RIA was carried out in 2016–17 and included a two-stage application process for principal investigators in charge of the LSRIs and the formed platforms.

"The HiLIFE infrastructure assessment was a very welcome exercise to the biodiversity collections of the University. It supported our strategic goal to strengthen our services to the research community through digitalization," says Leif Schulman, the director of Finnish Museum of Natural History and the chair of Helsinki University Biodiversity Collections Research Infrastructure HUBCRI.

The assessment utilized an extensive user survey with over a thousand responders commenting on relevance, user access, and quality of service.

An international evaluation panel assessed all 23 platform proposals with 76 Life Science Research Infrastructures. After that, the panel visited Viikki and Meilahti Campuses for assessment interviews where all the Principal Investigators of each platform were welcomed.

"I spent two very interesting days in the evaluation meetings. The process was excellently organized at all levels, from the preparatory phase to the final report. All documents that we received were of very high standards, as well as the presentations from the different platforms,” says one of the experienced evaluators, Dr. Monica Morales, Head of Core Facilities at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona.

Based on the evaluation panel’s recommendations, 18 platforms were established right away, with three more pending specific recommendations. They were granted the total of ca. €4.3M annually for salaries and running costs, and €2M for immediate funding for instruments. In addition, prioritization of instruments for future funding was made.

"Several panelists considered our infrastructures and their plans to be of very high quality. This was very nice to hear from people in charge of top notch research institutes in Europe," says HiLIFE director Tomi Mäkelä. According to him the panel’s recommendations and feedback are also useful for future development.

"Regular stringent evaluation of shared use infrastructures and their integration to larger entities was the general message. Careers of specialized professionals - both technicians and researchers was a clear concern. The systematic survey and analysis together with the recommendations provides an excellent basis to continue discussion with faculties and units in the fall.”

One the newly established platforms is Metabo-HiLIFE that provides metabolomics services from three LSRIs.

"The establishment and support for our platform will significantly strengthen our critical mass, analytical capabilities, and enhance service volumes. In HiLIFE we can continue to provide efficient, comprehensive and cutting-edge research services, and contribute to high quality research," says the chair of Metabo-HiLIFE Dr. Vidya Velagapudi from HiLIFE unit Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland FIMM.