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May 16, 2019

Feds inject $18 million into biotech research and training in Maine

Courtesy / Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory Colby College student Trisha Mukerjee benefited from an IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence course taught at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory earlier this year.

Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor received an award of nearly $18 million from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health, for the renewal of a grant to strengthen biomedical research and research training in Maine.

The grant will fund the renewal of the 18-year-old Maine INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) program for another five years, according to a May 15 news release.

 The lab is the founder and leader of a statewide collaborative network of 13 educational and research institutions.  

Other INBRE members include the University of Maine and The Jackson Laboratory, as well as partner undergraduate institutions Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, College of the Atlantic, Southern Maine Community College, the University of Maine Honors College, and the Universities of Maine at Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle.

“The renewal will allow us to continue a very successful program to create biomedical research and research training opportunities across the state, and especially among our undergraduate partner institutions,” James Coffman,  director of Maine INBRE and associate professor at MDI Biological Laboratory, said in the release. “Maine INBRE provides opportunity where it does not otherwise exist

Build research capacity

IDeA stands for “Institutional Development Award.” The aim of the IDeA program is to build research capacity in the 23 states and Puerto Rico that have historically low levels of National Institutes of Health funding and lack a strong biomedical research infrastructure.

Maine’s IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence program focuses on creating a technically skilled workforce by providing biomedical research experiences and training to undergraduates and research support and mentorship to young faculty members to increase their competitiveness for independent federal funding, and by improving the research infrastructure through facilities that provide state-of-the-art technology and technical expertise.

Economic impacts

Since its inception in 2001, Maine INBRE has played a critical role in supporting the expansion of the biomedical and biotechnology sectors of Maine’s economy. In addition to providing $86 million in direct federal funding to the state, it has attracted $80 million in additional federal grants, provided research training for approximately 2,250 Maine students and created more than 100 new jobs.

The program has helped students and young faculty to maximize their potential, realize their career ambitions and contribute to advancements in science that improve human health and well-being. It has also helped the state transition to a modern economy based on information and knowledge.

“Maine INBRE is a critical component in building the state's research capacity, including training tomorrow's biomedical workforce,” Joan Ferrini-Mundy,  president of the University of Maine and UMaine Machias, said in the release. “The opportunities this initiative has provided undergraduate and graduate students and faculty at UMaine and UMM demonstrate the value of statewide partnership and what we can accomplish, together, to make a difference in biomedical research and education in the state and beyond.”

“As a rural, public liberal arts institution that serves many first-generation college students, our involvement in Maine INBRE has transformed our ability to provide biomedical research training,” Jean Doty, a biology professor at UMaine Farmington, said in the release. 

In addition to programs at participating institutions, Maine INBRE provides mentored undergraduate summer research fellowships and research-intensive “short” courses during the academic year at MDI Biological Laboratory, including, for example, a recent course in genome engineering for UMF and UMM students. The hands-on programs are often the students’ first exposure to scientific research. 

“In the labs at school, you are doing cookie-cutter experiments; you’re under pressure to get an expected answer,” Colby College student Trisha Mukerjee said in the release. Mukerjee participated in an INBRE short course on the genetic modulators of stress signaling taught by Coffman at MDI Biological Laboratory earlier this year.  “This feels much more tangible than experiments that are spelled out in a lab manual.” 

More science majors

Follow-up studies have demonstrated that the Maine INBRE program has led to a 65% increase in the number of science majors at participating institutions over the past five years. Nearly 90% of program graduates pursue advanced degrees and approximately 20% are currently employed in Maine in a wide range of science-, technology- and health-related careers.  

MDI Biological Laboratory pursues new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on developing drugs that slow age-related degenerative diseases and activate natural abilities to heal. 

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