JAX brings foundational laboratory training on the road

Students at Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico posing for a group photo during a workshop led by JAX Genomic Education. Students at Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico posing for a group photo during a workshop led by JAX Genomic Education.

The Genomic Education team at The Jackson Laboratory developed a novel program to deliver customized workshops on the research applications of laboratory mice to historically disadvantaged learners at their respective institutions through a collaboration with JAX® Mice & Clinical Research Services.

Within their portfolio, the JAX Genomic Education Courses & Workshops team develops and delivers world-class, hands-on workshops that teach skills needed for biomedical research. For example: The high-demand Workshop on Surgical Techniques in the Laboratory Mouse was launched in 2007 and, with iterative updates, has been delivered for nearly two decades – often with participant waitlists.

Hands-on workshops offered by JAX provide a unique opportunity to trainees and researchers that is not available elsewhere. While the majority of our workshops are delivered in the JAX Applied Genomics Training Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, we recognize this setup may pose time and cost challenges that are especially acute for historically disadvantaged learners and those coming from institutions without substantial financial resources. To bridge this gap, we embarked on an initiative to bring workshops to learners, with the overall goal to deliver foundational, experiential training in the use of the laboratory mouse that participants can apply to their research and that will facilitate their career development.

An innovative approach to hands-on laboratory training

The traveling surgical instrumentation setup is sufficient to hold a workshop at any institution that has a vivarium and table space. The workshop setup in Ponce, PR, shown here, utilized folding tables.

In 2022, JAX Courses & Workshops was generously awarded funding by the Laboratory to develop an autonomous surgical infrastructure with a goal of being able to transport and deliver workshops at partner institutions. This “mobile training lab” setup would facilitate the expansion of hands-on training in the research use of the laboratory mouse to minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and programs across the United States.

With the funding from JAX, augmented by HHMI Advanced Courses grant support, the infrastructure to deliver mouse-based workshops on the road at partner institutions became a reality: JAX can now theoretically deliver this style of workshop at any institution that has appropriate table or bench space and a vivarium.

The roadshow begins

A pilot workshop was held at UConn Health in Farmington, Conn. in November 2022 to trial the travel program setup, including shipping and assembly of the laboratory equipment required to execute an off-site training on mouse surgical techniques. Through expert training led by Jennifer Corrigan, M.S., and Leanne Miceli, A.S., from the JAX Courses & Workshops team, and the dedication of our colleagues at JAX Genomic Medicine and UConn Health, this test run was a resounding success, paving the way for future implementations.

Associate Director of JAX Courses & Workshops Jennifer Corrigan leading a training session at Morgan State University in January 2023. (Image credit: Valerie Odero-Marah)

Critical to the expansion of the program was the collaboration and engagement of JMCRS with JAX Genomic Education. “The objectives of JMCRS and this program are well aligned,” explains Business Unit Manager Sierra Kent, Ph.D. “In addition to aligning with the Laboratory’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion, this impactful program supports the JMCRS commitment to teaching and utilizing best practices for animal use in research, notably the 3Rs: replacement, reduction, refinement. The program utilizes mice that would otherwise not be used.”

With this facilitation, the second workshop was held at Morgan State University, an MSI in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 2023 – an opportunity that builds on previous collaborations with Ingrid Tulloch, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Animal Behavior Research Facility at Morgan State.

Most recently, in May 2023, the team took the traveling workshop to Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico in partnership with Dr. Marian Sepulveda-Orengo. Both workshops at the MSIs filled to capacity and were met with great enthusiasm – as well as subsequent invites to return.

Empowering diverse learner groups

Workshop participants at Ponce Health Sciences University posing for a fun group photo.

Workshop participants ranged from graduate students and animal facility managers to junior and senior faculty. At Morgan State University, 70% of workshop participants identified as female and 95% represented demographic groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with 100% rating the course as “Excellent” or “Very Good” – the top two evaluation marks.

One of the Morgan State participants, DeAnna James, subsequently joined the JAX Postbaccalaureate Program in the fall of 2023.

At Ponce Health Sciences University, we witnessed another milestone: 100% of participants were from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, showcasing how this program can lower the barrier to inclusive participation. Director of Courses & Conferences Brent Berwin, Ph.D., remarked, “This was one of the most receptive and enthusiastic learner groups that we have ever taught, it would be a privilege to work with them again.”

Looking ahead: Continuing the roadshow

We’re pleased to have received invites to come back to Morgan State and Ponce, reaffirming the positive impact of our innovative approach to delivering surgical workshops.

The Genomic Education team at JAX is committed to creating diverse and inclusive educational programs where all students, trainees, learners, staff and visitors feel valued and are empowered to participate in our mission to improve human health through genomics research, scientific resources and education. With a pending NIH R13 grant application to support this program, we are poised to further expand our outreach, enabling more off-site workshops at MSIs over the next two years.