A central role for research infrastructures in life science
Development of national research infrastructure is of utmost importance to Sweden’s as a strong life science nation. The InfraLife project gathers Sweden’s large research infrastructures SciLifeLab, MAX IV and ESS. The report Stärkt fokus på framtidens forskningsinfrastruktur (SOU 2021:65) has gone through a referral process and during the government’s life science office´s yearly life science conference one of the sessions posed the question: Research and research infrastructure – Is national access/availability possible? InfraLife’s answer is YES! At the same time, we acknowledge that there is still a lot to be done to create better prerequisites and incentives that enables and encourage development of flexible structures for cross sector collaborations concerning the research infrastructures.
The report Stärkt fokus på framtidens forskningsinfrastruktur (SOU 2021:65) emanate from a traditional image of the role of research infrastructures, as tools for academic science. In addition to that role, the function and importance of research infrastructure, both for research and society is under transformation. In that context, a broader view on the subject would have been beneficial.
The core issue is the role of research infrastructure where we need an innovative and forward-thinking view to create integrated structures that benefit the whole ecosystem and that give Sweden the right prerequisites to be a leading life science nation. The role of research infrastructures should include a dynamic and seamless integration of research, education and innovation. The global challenges that we are faced with, especially within life science, -human health, biological diversity, environmental issues, and sustainability-, requires joint, cross sector efforts (academia, healthcare, industry, authorities) and optimal use of advanced infrastructures.
The report is limited to national infrastructures, but we believe the international aspect must be included since the infrastructures needs to be internationally attractive and competitive. The InfraLife project gathers the large research infrastructures SciLifeLab, MAX IV and ESS, of which the two first were included in the report. As organizations we are different in many aspects, but at the same time we share many challenges and have common goals.
Access to international research infrastructure is important for Swedish research and should be considered a national interest. The exclusion of international research infrastructure from the report entails some of the arguments resting on incomplete grounds. International research infrastructures are important and require considerably resources, as in the case of CERN and ESS. To strengthen research infrastructure in total, international commitments must be included.
InfraLife’s seven suggestions for the work on developing the role for research infrastructures are:
- Large scale national research infrastructure needs a special position concerning access to long term models for steering and financing. SciLifeLab is financed directly from the government, a model that MAX IV also advocates for its organization.
- The infrastructures are developed nationally with support from one host organization. The status as national research infrastructure needs to be clarified in the regulation letters for SciLifeLab and MAX IV, including the role of the board and directors as responsible for the operations. The mandate for the host university as well as other participating universities need clarification (concerning SciLifeLab).
- International commitments in research infrastructure have to be considered and an impact assessment of the entirety has to be performed, especially considering Sweden’s responsibility as a host nation for ESS.
- Increased cooperation and use of infrastructure for all participants of the life science system is in line with the ambition of the national life science strategy and this view is shared between the infrastructures and is the specific ambition of the InfraLife initiative, financed by the Swedish research council. A clear mission and mandate for the research infrastructures to prioritize efforts for increased interaction and use from the private sector (industry and healthcare) would contribute to that development.
- The research infrastructures origin in academia and are structured in an academic setting also concerning career pathways. To be able to attract and develop the necessary competence and expertise, in the global setting, new career pathways have to be developed at a national level. Pathways shall not be dominated by publications and teaching as main merits.
- Mathematics, physics, and programming are areas that needs to be strengthened within the basic education of life sciences. Education at different levels is pivotal to secure the knowledge required, and there is a need to further financing to develop programs for increased competence for young researchers. The SciLifeLab & Wallenberg National Program for Data-Driven Life Science (DDLS) financed by KAW, is an example of a much-needed such privately funded effort
- Life science is dynamic, complex and generates great amount of data. The establishment of e-infrastructure that takes into consideration the special needs of life science, including the integration of sensitive human/personal data, is central. The infrastructures should be included in this development.
InfraLife aims to increase knowledge about possibilities at SciLifeLab, MAX IV and ESS, and to create better prerequisites for cross sector collaborations at the infrastructures. Industry organization partnerships in the initiative, with Lif and SwedenBIO, aims to widen the view of research infrastructures from mainly an academic concern to including industry and healthcare.
Today, the infrastructures are already accessible to users outside academia, but there is a lot to be done at a systems level to encourage increased industry use and cross sector collaborations. The role of research infrastructures as hubs driving the development of new research areas is central for technology development and methods-driven research and should be supported and promoted in favor of Sweden’s life science sector.
To achieve fundamental change, the infrastructures need incentives and financing. Otherwise, we risk getting stuck with well-worded strategies and too slow implementation.
Sweden has amazing national and international research infrastructures, and strategic resources are key in maintaining a leading role within life science. The possibilities are endless if the right conditions are created, says Sandra Falck, PI InfraLife project.
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