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More about Proteomics Metabolomics Victoria

  • Proteomics is a modern technological field aimed at enriching our understanding about proteins by studying them collectively rather than individually (i.e. a holistic approach). Likewise, metabolomics is used to investigate many small molecules, or "metabolites", at once (learn more at PMV). When the ideas that led to PMV were being conceived, the proteomics discipline was little more than a decade old and expanding rapidly. While attracting great excitement, the field was also suffering growth pains which were only aggravated when metabolomics subsequently rose to prominence.

    umbrella-400px.gifVision

    The overall vision was for PMV to be an umbrella network that brought unity and identity to this nascent technological sector, thereby enhancing its strength and recognition. Follow-on advances would lead to better efficiencies and increased investment in this and neighbouring sectors. Before PMV, problems arose from fragmentation and lack of block identity, leading to missed opportunities as a whole. Applying holistic philosophy shared by the "-omics" fields (i.e. that enriched learning comes from addressing many things together), it seemed sensible to unite mainstream proteomics and metabolomics, plus their conceptual offshoots, under a common banner. A second problem concerned accessibility, with interest in these enticing new technologies outstripping the available resources and guidance. Improved communication, both within the sector and externally, was clearly needed to address these and additional problem areas. A bold and distinctive vision was to span the full user-base (academia, research, trade, industry) through to government, thereby developing a mandated community in which research translation could thrive. It followed that academic and commercial interests might then work together to "grow the pie", rather than compete between existing "slices". Finally, it was envisioned that such a collective would provide a sizeable building block that could interact effectively alongside other sectors and networks (e.g. other "-omics technologies", healthcare, biotechnology, education), in Victoria and elsewhere.

    Implementation

    To get the "cross-sector" vision rolling, a small group of proponents was assembled from academia and trade. After obtaining support and financial backing from the Victorian government, broader buy-in was secured from academia, trade and industry (i.e. 18 founding organisations & companies contributed financially). PMV was then formalised as an incorporated association and management structures put in place. Foundation initiatives (website portal, network functions) were designed and implemented, engaging broadly across the sector and region. A design focus here was to include small players as well as big, recognising that such diversity brought strength when solving individual scientific and technological problems (particularly challenges at the "front end"). Once broad membership was secured around the core areas, attention turned to fulfilling the umbrella vision by including peripheral players (e.g. protein structure/function) and interfacing with other network initiatives. From the outset, a particular challenge was to overcome the classical "us and them" barrier that existed between academia and trade, as necessitated by the vision for collaborative pie-growing. To address this challenge alongside other important matters, the idea of a regular "pub meeting" event was born (i.e. "public meeting" of the PMV Working Party, followed by a networking function at a nearby "public house").

    Translational outcomes

    Good progress has been made towards fulfilling the founding vision, to the extent that PMV has received governmental praise as a role model and since been emulated by others.

    • Unified identity:
      As a world-first of its type, the PMV network has successfully delineated a technology sector that draws on widespread academic input and translates through to opportunity for diverse applications in healthcare, agriculture and industry. Thus, for outsiders and government, PMV provides a graspable identity that covers a large amount of science and expenditure in the region. For insiders (>200 members), PMV brings flexible benefits associated with exposure and critical mass whilst preserving autonomy at organisational and individual levels. Effectiveness of the umbrella concept is evidenced by extensive online cross-referencing of PMV in Victoria and elsewhere, growing membership (including two more paid-up organisations), and the recent inclusion of the Melbourne Protein Group as an affiliate.

    • Access to technology:
      Seeking better access for outsiders, PMV developed a comprehensive online database of "who does what" across Victoria. Based on high use of this website section ("Get Help") and member reports, it is clear that the vastly improved information flow between potential participants (clients/providers/collaborators) saves time for all . Additionally, many items of major equipment are being utilised more heavily than before, anecdotally at least.

    • Better communication:
      PMV's first communication initiative was to develop a portal website that benefitted insiders (intercommunication, purchasing) and outsiders (education, access) alike, while also showcasing regional strength of the sector. Based on remarkably high use (consistently > 1200 unique visits per month since launch), this website is clearly fulfilling its design functions well. Secondly, the "pub meeting" initiative has proved successful, attracting a full spectrum of attendees from across the sector (i.e. students through to company executives). This quarterly event has evolved to include tours/talks by the host organisation (revolving through academia, trade and industry), so provoking an unprecedented level of local awareness and fellowship. One pleasing outcome has been new connections between industry and academia, as evidenced by linkage funding and co-supervision of postgraduates.

    • Strategic planning and advocacy:
      PMV has opened a new door for planning and advocacy at community/sector level, driven in large part by its regular gatherings and other communication improvements that together provide an unprecedented melting pot. In its founding plan with Government, PMV was to turn its focus to education and training issues that thwarted sustainability (including further provision of infrastructural support). Initiatives are underway in both these areas (below) accompanied by community-centric discussion about major equipping needs. Additionally, cooperative arrangements have been established with other network groups including the Victorian Platform Technology Network (cf. transecting interest in core facilities) and PMV's new affiliate, the Melbourne Protein Group (cf. student focus). In an advocacy role, PMV participates by invitation in technology-infrastructure planning at state and national level (NCRIS), aiming to complement the inputs from Metabolomics Australia, Proteomics Australia and other member organisations.

    • Education and training:
      Having amalgamated many interest areas and talents from across the sector, PMV is proving to be a strong educational vehicle. Through its portal design, the PMV website offers many educational opportunities for outsiders besides its highly-accessed Learn section. With a view to improving visibility at secondary education level in particular, PMV co-hosted a public lecture linking metabolomics with Charles Darwin and the origin of life. Ensuing links (GTAC, Victorian Department of Education, Science Teachers Association) have led to plans for PMV to coordinate a student-focussed e-learning resource about proteomics and metabolomics ("bench to bedside to industry"). Hoping that these education initiatives will bring more people to the field, PMV has also designed a technician-training scheme involving flexible apprenticeships hosted collaboratively by academia/trade/industry.

    • Support and investment: Adding to ongoing contributions from MRUFD, PMV has attracted broad in-kind support from its management and members - hence its ongoing operation and outcomes have been achieved at low cost. To meet these costs, 21 entities representing academia, trade, industry and government have made financial contributions, strongly endorsing the cross-sector vision of PMV.

    It is apparent from these outcomes that PMV has made strong translational advances, both by coming to fruition and through initiatives it has developed since. With its exciting plans for further growth and development (e.g. e-learning resource, training schemes, educational tradeshows, scientific/educational liaison officers), PMV is ripe for further development alongside other network ventures in Victoria and elsewhere.