She was recognized by her peers in 2021 for her leadership at the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Animal Imaging Shared Resource. Now Natalie Serkova, MSc, PhD, is bringing her expertise to a new role: deputy associate director of all shared resources at the CU Cancer Center.
In the newly created position, Serkova will oversee all of the CU Cancer Center’s shared resources — a set of 12 full and two developing shared resources that offer researchers at the cancer center and throughout the CU Anschutz Medical Campus access to technologies and expertise that are too expensive or technically challenging to develop in individual labs. These include animal imaging, biostatistics and bioinformatics, mass spectrometry, and drug discovery and development.
“In today's world, you cannot do research just in your lab, because everything becomes so comprehensive and technologically sophisticated — not to mention the costs,” Serkova says. “A single lab, no matter how brilliant the PI is, cannot have all the expertise and all the equipment to do genomics, metabolomics, and imaging, for example. For this, you really have to rely on the experts, team science, and infrastructure, which is what the cancer center provides.”
Serkova trained in neuro-imaging at a top MRI facility in Germany before doing postdocs at Stanford and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). She was recruited to the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 2002 to build an animal imaging program similar to those at Stanford and UCSF. She collaborates with many researchers on the Anschutz campus, including neuro-oncologists at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Finding pain points
For Serkova, who will remain head of the animal imaging shared resource, the job began by talking to the leaders of each core to discover common problems and ideas for solving them.
“I was asking everyone, ‘How can we help to make it easier for you to operate your core?’” she says. “‘How can we make the technology and the services your core provides state-of-the-art and take it to the next level? How can we support and promote your members and staff?”
One of the biggest problems she found was that nearly every core was having trouble finding and retaining qualified personnel. So Serkova developed a plan to share personnel among the Shared Resources cores to maximize their knowledge and experience. She also started a working group to train directors on applying for National Institutes of Health grants to purchase new equipment, and she reached out to shared resources at CU Boulder, Colorado State University, and Colorado School of Mines to begin collaborating and building a statewide network of laboratory resources.
“Another initiative we are also going to introduce is internal grants,” she says. “These will allow users to apply together with Shared Resources for funds to develop new technology and new services we didn't have before.”
Experience at home and on the road
As the CU Cancer Center’s first ever deputy associate director of shared resources, Serkova brings not only her 20 years of experience in the Animal Imaging Shared Resource, but also experience as an active reviewer for the National Cancer Institute, evaluating shared resources at other cancer centers around the country.
The CU Cancer Center’s shared resources are among the most comprehensive she has seen, she says, based on the variety and quality of technologies they provide to users. It’s a boon not only to current CU Cancer Center researchers, but to cancer center leadership looking to attract excellent new faculty.
“Very often when we recruit faculty, they ask about what resources are in place to carry out their research,” she says. “It definitely helps them to make up their mind when they find out they will have first-class shared resources and strong collaborative support.”