The Shared Zebrafish Research Facility at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland was to be a state-of-the-art model for the international research community. Completed only a couple years ago at the Building 6 Science Complex the 10,000 square foot, 19,000 tank facility is one of the largest research facilities of it's kind in the world supporting a variety of research done with the Danio rerio (zebrafish) species - a small stripped freshwater fish that is increasingly becoming a popular vertebrate model organism for genetic and developmental research. The NIH facility, however, has been plagued with issues from inception stemming mainly from lack of complete and coherent design and implementation of it's aquatic life support systems. This year those issues reached critical mass when they started to adversely threaten the validity of research data coming from the Institutes. The NIH's elite engineers from the Department of Technical Resources (DTR), a division of the Office of Research Facilities, were brought in to remedy the situation.
To provide that engineering team with practical experience from the zebrafish industry, Austin Bailey from our office was flown out to the East Coast as an expert on aquatic research facilities. Austin's extensive background with aquatic research, and RBA's recent experience with managing the decision making, design and construction process for the University of Oregon's Zebrafish Core Facility proved invaluable to the process. Over two intense days, the team was able to sort through a complex range of issues and drill down to the underlying system problems. The NIH team is highly capable of developing targeted engineering solutions to address the specific shortcomings of the facility. Those strategies, however, were carefully balanced and vetted against our experience with the unique expectations and realities of aquatic research.
"There is no way to start over with these facilities. Too much capital goes into the initial systems. We were able to help the NIH prioritize their solutions and predict the broader operational and research implications of specific strategies. The NIH now has a path forward that will restore and preserve quality of research. The final solution will satisfy everyone involved, and that's quite an achievement at this point" states Austin Bailey.
RBA has also signed on to draft the Aquatic Research Facility design guidelines for the next revision of the Design Requiments Manual for Biomedical Laboratories and Animal Research Facilities (DRM) produced by the NIH's Office of Research Facilities. All facilities funded by the NIH are held to these design standards. The DRM also serves as a design resource for new research facility construction and renovation worldwide.