Alan Sawyer has dedicated his career to the integration of cutting-edge technologies in advanced biomedical research – refining them in innovative ways, establishing them as central facilities, and managing them on an institutional scale. His approach to these tasks is based on the recognition that the most significant recent advances in the life sciences have been driven by new technologies in close dialogue with fascinating scientific questions. The success of most scientific laboratories today depends on their access to the widest possible palette of high-quality services and their ability to adapt them to diverse questions and apply in highly creative ways. The way this is managed has steadily evolved; currently most institutes achieve this through the establishment of centralized core facilities, which offer cost-effective access to technologies and collaborative expertise.
Alan has played a role in this evolution for over three decades and has taken a leading role in shaping it, initially at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and currently as Senior Director, Scientific Services at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX). His introduction to scientific services began three decades ago, when he began making monoclonal antibodies and refining classical hybridoma protocols. By patenting microarray-based screening arrays coupled to robotically executed cell culture protocols, he increased the per FTE throughput of monoclonal antibodies by an order of magnitude. This transformed the procedure into a highly efficient operation that could be centralized, then spun off into a biotech company. Subsequently he began managing an expanded range of services for institutes in Europe and the United States. His experience has helped establish a model of assessing scientific services based on operational metrics (including accessibility, currency, quality, timeliness, and cost effectiveness). He has hired highly qualified heads of facilities who constantly monitor technological developments and make important, creative contributions to cutting-edge research. In his current role, he directs the operation of 13 centrally managed core organizations with over 130 employees, delivering $18 million in annual services.