Meeting of the Swiss, Swedes and South Africans minds

Author: Nicolette Crozier, Benjamin Chimukangara, Veron Ramsuran - 2017-07-25

Our little group, Veron Ramsuran, Ben Chimukangara and myself left the shores of South Africa to travel to Switzerland, the land of the Alps and chocolate on the 9th June. We ended up staying in a beautiful place called Lavaux, near Lausanne. Who would have thought Switzerland would have a place full of vineyards, along the giant Lake Geneva, which is listed as a UNESCO heritage site? The Lavaux vineyard area is unique with the narrow streets, tiny villages and many traditional family wine-making businesses along the way. It seemed almost surreal that we would be treated to the absolute splendour and peace of Lake Geneva, where all types of boats and watercraft were seen on the lake, as the Swiss take to the water for their exercise and enjoyment for the day.

We spent the weekend experiencing the joy of public transport, jumping on and off trains, as well as missing a few of the trains coming through the small stations. In fact, the three of us got to know the train stations very well. We managed to make our way to Geneva where we did a lot of walking around, taking selfies and sightseeing within this amazing city. We found ourselves in a tiny Swiss shop full of chocolates and all sorts of goodies and purchased a few things for our families back home.

Monday came around soon enough and all three of us, now armed with the knowledge of how the trains worked, managed to miss the first train that we needed, in order to get to the University of Lausanne, it might have had something to do with Ben not being a morning person. Luckily for us, our meeting with Ioannis Xenarios; the Director of Vital-IT and Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB), was about mid-morning so we jumped on the second train within the hour. We arrived on the doorstep of the Lausanne University and were introduced to Vital-IT's heads of department and settled into receiving a presentation from them about the structure of their scientific business.

They have eight senior scientists who lead research and collaborative development projects at Vital-IT and their skills are inter-complementary with many domains of ability that involve computational sciences, algorithm development and data analysis. Vital-IT facilitates the provision of technical and scientific support, working with scientists and on research projects at the Schools of Higher Education. Vital-IT also coordinates the use of information technology and bioinformatics resources in life sciences. In particular, it supports research through integration with the genomics, proteomics and imaging core facilities in south-west Switzerland and by taking part in several and international projects.

Their presentation was structured on the history of their business and how they built the business over the years using their knowledge, expertise and plenty of support from various sectors. Their key success point was to ensure the stability of harnessing all areas of expertise to utilise. They put their success down to harnessing all areas of expertise within their business as well as receiving funding from different sectors instead of relying on funding from a sole supplier. This point was very informative as it highlighted the need of working as a team in order to become successful. What their presentation emphasised was for KRISP to utilise the insight and ability from a successful group such as Vital-IT in order to become a successful model incorporating bioinformatics within the centre.

It was our turn to present to their group. The presentation helped the Vital- IT team visualise our structure of KRISP and where we were with the setting up of KRISP. It also identified our weak areas within KRISP, which led to a fruitful discussion and some helpful suggestions so that the various heads could suggest solutions and options for us to discuss and ascertain if we could use those ideas. 'One of the suggestions was to attract the right expertise to KRISP, expertise within our various fields in order to ensure we cover all services to provide the correct service to collaborators and third parties. Another useful suggestion was to ensure that we start with charging for omics data and bioinformatics analysis from the beginning as this is a costly exercise. They suggest that we should not starting by giving everything for free, as later on when you want to start charging for a service your clients and collaborators are going to want that service for free and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to have funding to retain top scientists.

On Wednesday, we packed up and left Lavaux at 3:30 am in the morning so that we could make the first flight out to Sweden and hopefully not miss any of the other flights along the way. After spending the day, running around the three different airports with our heavy luggage and not missing a single flight, we arrived in Sweden, the land of Abba and Swedish meatballs. It was our first experience of using the bus transport route only to miss our stop and end up a few kilometers down the road. Needless to say, we had to drag our heavy luggage around the town of Stockholm trying to figure out where our hotel was.

We were exhausted. Along the way, we bumped into a Swede who quite happily showed us the way to our hotel. En route, whilst we were chatting to him, we happened to meet Elina Staaf, the project coordinator from SciLife laboratory, who very kindly took us through to the hotel to check in. We then went for dinner to a restaurant down the road from the hotel without the luggage thank goodness!. We had a wonderful time chatting with her and finding out what the next few days were going to hold for us. We learnt that we were going to be introduced to all the heads of department at SciLife Laboratory, which is a national centre for molecular biosciences and focuses on health and environmental research.

SciLife Lab is a national resource formed on a collaboration between four universities: Karolinska Institute, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University and Uppsala University. SciLife Laboratory combines both frontline technical expertise with advanced knowledge of translational medicine and molecular biosciences. This enables researchers from all over Sweden, to have access to the technology and the expertise at SciLife Laboratory with subsidised costs, whilst the users from commercial companies pay the full costs of the performed analysis. SciLife Lab's aim is to build a strong research community through education and collaborative exchange.

We arrived at SciLife Laboratory and were privileged to experience the beautiful architecture and surroundings that host this prestigious Institute. Our days involved several presentations and group meetings where many heads of departments met with us, allowed us to questioned them and proposed different strategies and solutions for developing KRISP into a successful molecular biosciences platform using their knowledge and experience they had gained over the years to prevent mistakes and streamline KRISP's growth. 'One of the suggestions was that we work together with collaborators to design the projects and to write grants applications as this will ensure that appropriate data is produced and funding is available for advanced analysis'.

We met some amazing scientific collaborators and hope to work with them in the future and bring some of their expertise to KRISP through future scientific projects and research. We eventually made our way to the airport on the Friday afternoon, nearly missing our flight and started our long trek back home, we were filled with excitement and optimism for building up the future of KRISP.


Blogs: Meeting of the Swiss, Swedes and South Africans minds

KRISP has been created by the coordinated effort of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the South African Medical Research Countil (SAMRC).

Location: K-RITH Tower Building
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN
719 Umbilo Road, Durban, South Africa.
Director: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira