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September 7, 2017

$11M grant funds MMCRI's research of obesity and other metabolic diseases

Courtesy / Maine Medical Center Research Institute
Courtesy / Maine Medical Center Research Institute
Katherine Motyl, faculty scientist, works in the lab at Maine Medical Center Research Institute, which has landed a five-year $11 million grant establish a multidisciplinary research center focused on human metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health awarded the Maine Medical Center Research Institute a five-year, $11 million grant to establish a multidisciplinary research center focused on human metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

The funded program includes partnerships between Maine Medical Center and the University of Maine, the University of New England and Brown University.

The $11 million Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, or COBRE, award comes just seven weeks after the NIH announced a separate $20 million award to MMCRI and two partnering institutions to establish the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network.

The two new programs will complement each other and expand MMCRI's capacity to translate basic laboratory research discoveries into clinical care for patients, according to a news release announcing the new award.

Researchers at MMCRI have been studying how metabolically active tissues, including fat, bone and the brain use energy and control overall metabolism in the body. The COBRE award will fund four young investigators who are conducting cellular, molecular, biochemical and clinical research. The award also supports the expansion of state-of-the-art technology, including advanced protein and lipid analysis and bone measurements, and the assessment of physiology and body metabolism.

As the new scientists obtain independent grant funding, additional new junior investigator projects will be added to the program, providing a process to recruit new research talent into Maine, according to a MMCRI news release.

The overall goal of the program is to address obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes — all metabolic diseases common in Maine — by understanding pathways that lead to these disorders.

Fostering talent in Maine

"One feature of this COBRE award is that it supports young investigators as they embark upon independent research projects," said Lucy Liaw, MMCRI faculty scientist and program director. "We have established a network of mentors and consultants to provide strong support for these investigators as they launch their careers. Fostering and maintaining talent in Maine is crucial for the growth of biotechnology in our state."

The foundational research these investigators will be conducting will contribute to the development of cures for metabolic diseases and obesity. In 2015, the CDC listed Maine as having an obesity rate of 30%, the highest in New England.

"This award by the National Institutes of Health to MMCRI recognizes the importance of this area of research to the health of our communities and the significant capabilities of our research institute to make key contributions to the field," said Dr. Donald St. Germain, director of MMCRI and vice president of research at Maine Medical Center. "The grant also will allow MMCRI to continue to offer a training pipeline for students at all levels to gain biomedical research experience that could lead to professional employment here in Maine."

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