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GenomeWeb's Fifth Core Lab Survey

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – While users are satisfied overall with the services that core labs provide, turnaround time and costs seem to be slight sticking points, according to respondents to GenomeWeb's biennial core lab survey. Still, users ranked their core labs as "good" for most metrics.

To compile this data, GenomeWeb emailed a link to an online survey to registered users of our website in late August and a second email to another group of users in September. After gathering some demographic data, the questionnaire split off for core lab users and core lab workers.

Users were asked about how often they took work to a core, what that experience was like, and how they would rate their core on a variety of metrics, including speed of service, cost, accuracy, and the range of services and tools provided. Meanwhile, core staff were asked about the size of their core, the services they provided, and what services they think are important for serving their clientele.

In all, 383 people took part in the survey, including 66 core lab workers. Respondents hailed from all over the world, though most were in the US, and they represented universities, academic medical centers, biotechs, and more.

A third of non-core lab respondents said they send work to cores all the time or often, while 42 percent said they occasionally send work to cores.

Users were generally impressed with the accuracy of results that core labs provide, with industry users ranking their cores at 2.2 and academic users at 2.3 on a scale of zero to three. For other features, such as the reliability of service, quality of support staff, and personal attention to work, users rated their core mostly as "good" or right around a two on the scale.

Cost and speed of service slipped a little below that point, coming in at 1.7 to 1.8 on that scale.

Those results coincide broadly with what core lab workers rank as important for serving their customers. On a similar zero-to-three scale from "not important" to "highly important," core lab workers said having accurate results was "highly important" with a ranking just shy of 3.0. Reliability of service was also highly valued at 2.8.

Cost and range of services provided were slightly less valued by core lab workers, coming at 2.1 and 1.9, respectively.

Users also said that core labs generally offered a "good" range of tools and services. The most common tools core workers said their facilities offered were DNA sequencing, PCR/qPCR, and RNA sequencing.

Similarly, nearly 55 percent of users said they ran their DNA sequencing experiments either at a core lab or through an outside service provider, while about 54 percent of users said they ran their RNA sequencing experiments either at a core lab or through an outside service provider.

The most common type of experiment for which users said they turn to their core was microarray-based projects.

Conversely, users said they were more likely to run PCR/qPCR and 2D gel experiments in their own lab and to do their own bioinformatics.

But that may be changing. Tools and technologies in genomics and related fields don't stand still for long, and core lab workers said they see more work coming in related to RNA sequencing and DNA sequencing, as well as to bioinformatics. However, they are seeing declines in 2D gels and protein array projects, continuing a trend seen for 2D gels in the 2012 survey.

Of course, they said they would like to bring in new tools and technologies, especially single-cell sequencing, a long-read sequencer, or even just a newer next-gen sequencing platform.

That would be fine by their users, too, who said they would like to see newer sequencing platforms as options at their local core.

The Respondents

Core Lab Respondents 66
Non-core Lab Respondents 317

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The Core Lab Perspective

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Core Lab Pricing
61.9% of core labs are fee-for-service with tiered pricing.
28.6% are fee-for-service with flat pricing.
4.8% are free.
4.8% have some other pricing scheme.

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Top Five Tools or Technologies Offered by Core Labs
DNA sequencing
PCR/qPCR
RNA sequencing
Bioinformatics
Genotyping

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Core Lab Workers' Top Three Wishes for a New Tool or Technology
Single-cell sequencing
Long-read sequencer
A newer next-gen sequencer

What Core Lab Workers Consider Important for Improving Their Lab
Having newer tools/technologies
Better software options
Having higher throughput tools/technologies

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The Users' Perspective

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Time to Pay
47.4% of non-core lab respondents say core lab costs are fixed, and they know the price ahead of time
7.2% say costs are fixed, but they don't know the price until the bill arrives.
28.4% say they occasionally negotiate costs
17.0% say they negotiate all the time.

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Users' Top Three Wishes for Tools to Be Included at Cores
Next-generation sequencing
Newer sequencing platform, like Pacific Biosciences' SMRT system or the Illumina HiSeq
RNA sequencing

Troubleshooting
If there is a problem:
43.2% of non-core lab respondents say the core alerts them to the issue, and they work together to solve it.
29.0% say the core tells them about it and re-runs the experiment itself.
21.0% say they usually identify the problem themselves, but the core will fix it.
6.8% say they usually find the issue and have to pay to have it fixed.

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