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We asked core facilities staff and research scientists from the U.S. and Europe for their top tips for securing funding for large instrumentation, such as a cell analyzer or cell sorter. Here are the key questions you should consider while preparing your grant application to increase your chances of a successful outcome.

Who are your major users and how will they use the instrument?

1. Who are your major users and how will they use the instrument?

The major users will be the reason for submitting the grant in the first place. You will need to highlight their research area, how often they will use the equipment, as well as detail why these users need new equipment. Possible reasons include limitations of current technology that major users have access to, a need for a new instrument to speed up or enhance their research, or a desire to improve regional or national research capacity.

Make sure that your identified major users match the requirements of the grant you are applying for. Some grant applications may require users to meet set requirements for user numbers, location, or funding sources.

For a National Institute of Health (NIH) S10 grant, a certain percentage of the user time has to be NIH-funded users — it’s absolutely critical that you have enough NIH-funded users and that you can show the amount of instrument time that they will require.Mike Kissner, Director of Operations, CSCI Flow Cytometry Core Facility, New York, U.S.

For internal funding calls, identifying a number of major users within your institution who will benefit from acquisition of new technology and support the proposal will strengthen your application.

Also, consider how additional users of the equipment will be identified, anticipated demand, and how you will prioritize between different users. If the major users are likely to be one research group, you may need to include careful justification of sole usage.

What are the most important features your core lab needs from a flow cytometer

2. What are the most important features your core lab needs from a flow cytometer?

Ensure that you include clear scientific justifications for why you need a particular type and model, as well as making sure you understand the capabilities of the instrument you are asking for, and that the major users do as well. Don’t foul the grant by having a major user highlight what the instrument can’t do (for example, describing cell sorting on a cell analyzer). If possible, can you obtain preliminary data by demoing or getting temporary access to the requested instrument model?

On the whole it is the project that really carries the grant application. The technical aspect is the logical conclusion of the grant. You know what’s out there in the field and then use the ability of that instrument to justify support of that project.Maria Daly, Flow Cytometry Facility Manager, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, U.K.

Use correct terminology to ensure your application is taken seriously and that you don’t appear confused about the technology. For example, don’t use FACS (fluorescence-activated cell sorting) when referring to flow cytometry; FACS is a trademarked company term, but has crept into the modern lexicon. For help with terminology, see Cossarizza et al. 2017 as a good starting point.

Provide a detailed comparison between the requested instrument and other similar commercially available systems, and why this one meets your requirements best. Make sure you include the requested number of up-to-date quotes for the equipment.

What infrastructure needs to be in place to support the system

3. What infrastructure needs to be in place to support the system?

Many funding bodies will want to ensure that the equipment you are asking for will provide maximum value. Include where the instrument will reside, how you will maintain equipment, what similar equipment you already have in place, and how this acquisition will complement or accelerate existing research solutions.

The administration and how the facility is run is very important. You should demonstrate that you have ways to track the use of the equipment.Tim Bushnell, PhD, Director, Shared Resource Laboratories, University of Rochester, New York, U.S.

Detail how you will train people and whether you have dedicated core staff to provide technical assistance, or if the equipment can be operated by trained users without further support. Highlight any other details about infrastructure that you have in place to support equipment usage long term. Make sure you include written statements of support where needed.

If you are not an expert on that instrument, find somebody who is and get them to write you a letter of support that they will help you out or become an external advisor to you to make sure that you make full use of the instrument.Tim Bushnell
What is your biosafety plan

4. What is your biosafety plan?

If a cell sorter is on the list, make sure the grant has addressed the recommendations from the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC) biosafety taskforce. Review Holmes et al. 2014 about cell sorting and, for all grants, make sure to obtain a letter from the institutional biosafety officer.

Have you factored in enough time for a successful grant application

5. Have you factored in enough time for a successful grant application?

Plan your submission well in advance — grant applications are time consuming and gathering all of the required information from major users can take longer than expected. As there are set funding rounds, applications must be submitted by a fixed deadline, so leave enough time to make them. When multiple applicants are involved, stay on track by setting internal deadlines and consider using cloud-based solutions to allow different people to work on the application at the same time, as well as collate all the documentation from each applicant. This way you are not held up waiting for key information before passing the application over to the next person. If your research institution requires grant applications to undergo internal review before being submitted, make sure you factor in time to meet this milestone.

Could you consider novel funding sources for purchase?

6. Could you consider novel funding sources for purchase?

If traditional routes are not available, there are often other ways that can be used to fund large equipment. Sometimes philanthropic grants are made to research or academic institutions to purchase equipment, or if you cannot get 100% of the purchase funded, your institution may offer to match funding (e.g., 50%) to help you acquire new technology. Alternatively, there may be lease programs available from equipment providers or you may be able to take out a loan and spread the repayment costs over a number of years.

Another good source of funding is a bank loan. I purchased equipment several times with a bank loan and could pay off the principle through my depreciation fund.Karen Helm, Manager, Flow Cytometry Shared Resource, University of Colorado (Retired)

Flow cytometers are valuable pieces of equipment useful for a wide variety of research programs. We hope these tips will help you secure the funding you need.

Click here to explore Bio-Rad’s flow cytometer systems.

Further Reading

7 Tips for Purchasing Your Next Cell Sorter

Flow Cytometry: Basic Definitions

References

Cossarizza A et al. (2019). Guidelines for the use of flow cytometry and cell sorting in immunological studies (second edition). Eur. J. Immunol. 2019. 49: 1,457–1,973.

Holmes KL et al. (2014). International Society for the Advancement of Cytometry cell sorter biosafety standards. Cytometry A. 85, 434–435.

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