When the NCA&T Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies on the NC Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis reached 40 employees, Director Leonard Williams, PhD, knew it was time to expand.
The Ready-to-Go Laboratory suites in the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building were the obvious choice. The 1,500-square-foot laboratories come with administrative areas, bench tops, fume hoods, sinks and storage. Separated into distinct work areas, the units can house one to three companies. NCAT decided to lease an entire ready-to-go suite in order to establish a core facility to centralize their equipment and alleviate the crowding in their 5,800 square feet laboratory and office suite located in the UNC Nutrition Research Institute Building. The NCA&T core lab facility should be fully operational by April.
“NCA&T has been an early, full partner at the Research Campus,” said Clyde Higgs, NCRC vice president of business development. “We are excited about their growth and that we made the investment in the Ready-to-Go labs at just the right time to facilitate their expansion and continued achievements as a research center.”
Currently, Williams researches foodborne pathogens like norovirus, and NCA&T’s three other principal investigators focus on functional foods such as grains, peanuts and sweet potatoes uncovering ways to use the natural-occurring phytonutrients in plants to fight chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease and create healthier food products.
“We tie all of this research together and how it impacts our nutrition from every angle,” Williams said, “from looking at how a diet rich in phytochemicals impacts our metabolism and our gut microflora, and how it impacts specific genes related to chronic disease. Our new lab will allow us to be able to do that research better.”
The critical equipment in NCA&T’s new facility includes a liquid handler, a plate formatter, 24-capillary gene sequencer, LCMS and a GCMS and an Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) spectrometry.
“The ICP is a unique piece of equipment that allows us to look at minerals and heavy metals in food, soil or blood samples,” Leonard explained. “We also have the equipment to do some basic genomic analysis for biological or agriculture samples.”
Renaud Warin, PhD, an NCA&T research associate, will be in charge of managing the new laboratory. “Dr. Warin is actually a nutritional immunologist. He’ll be able to bring a very unique perspective to our core facility,” Williams commented.
Doctoral student Jennifer McBride, who is studying nutritional immunology, will assist Warin.
Located in two buildings, Williams looks forward to additional opportunities to collaborate. In the UNC building, NC&AT works with NC Central University’s Nutrition Research Program. In the core lab, Williams expects to work more closely with neighbors UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Services Division, General Mills and the David H. Murdock Research Institute.
“The new lab puts us in the center of campus,” Leonard said, “allowing us to be able to work in another world-class facility with world class minds.”
Looking ahead, Williams added, “We can anticipate in 2016 we may be close to capping out at 50 employees. So this expansion is very important to our long-term strategic plan and will help NCA&T continue to conduct cutting-edge research.”