BAR HARBOR – The MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor has received an $18.4 million grant to strengthen biomedical research and hands-on workforce training in Maine. The five-year award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, ensures the continuation of the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), a collaborative network of 13 Maine research institutions, universities, and colleges led by the MDI Biological Laboratory.
The goal of the INBRE program is to enhance Maine’s capacity to conduct competitive biomedical research by providing research funding to early career scientists and offering hands-on research training to undergraduate students. Since it began in 2001, it has brought more than $93 million in federal funds into Maine, improved the state’s research infrastructure, and trained more than 2,000 Maine students in biomedical research techniques.
Senator Susan Collins announced the award, saying, “The INBRE has been a powerful instrument for bringing institutions from Fort Kent to South Portland together to strengthen our state. I am grateful to the MDI Biological Laboratory for initiating this excellent program, which provides Maine students with real world science training and prepares them for careers in science and health.”
“The INBRE program is making a tremendous difference in Maine,” says Congressman Mike Michaud. “Biomedical research is an increasingly important sector of our economy. The INBRE program is putting Maine on the map for top-notch research and education programs that bring in new funding and investment.”
Statewide Investments and Benefits
The new grant will be awarded over 5 years. During that time, 800 undergraduate and graduate students will receive hands-on biomedical research training through summer research fellowships, academic year short courses, and research assistantships in Maine. In addition, the grant will provide research support for fourteen science faculty members across the state, enabling them to compete for federal grants and bring students into their labs as research assistants.
Northern and eastern Maine enjoy faster internet connections in part because of the INBRE program, which received $1.73 million in 2009 to create a high-speed fiber optic connection from Bangor to the University of Maine at Presque Isle and complete a high-speed coastal loop from Portland to Ellsworth.
Senator Angus King notes, “This is exactly the kind of investment we need in Maine. The INBRE program is improving our high-tech infrastructure and raising the ambitions of students across Maine, while giving them the tools and experience to realize those ambitions.”
“This is great news for Maine and for the MDI Biological Laboratory,” adds Kevin Strange, Ph.D., president of the MDI Biological Laboratory. “This grant will help us continue to build Maine’s innovation economy. More than half of these funds will be distributed among colleges and research institutions across the state to build the state’s research infrastructure and help Maine’s colleges and research institutions attract talented faculty.”
The Maine INBRE was founded and is led by the MDI Biological Laboratory and consists of one other major research institution, The Jackson Laboratory; seven public institutions: the University of Maine, the University of Maine Honors College, Southern Maine Community College, and the University of Maine at Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle; and four private colleges: College of the Atlantic and Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin colleges.
Building a Skilled Workforce in Maine
Governor Paul LePage praised the impressive track record of the INBRE program. “Not only does the INBRE program provide Maine students with strong scientific training, it also emphasizes the importance of key life skills such as communication, problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork. Students in every part of Maine have been inspired and equipped to go on to good jobs and advanced education in health and the sciences.”
Follow-up studies show that of the students who pave participated in Maine INBRE programs and have graduated from college, 90 percent are pursuing careers or graduate education in health-related fields. INBRE grants have led to the creation of more than one hundred new, high-paying jobs in Maine.
At the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), which joined INBRE in 2004, access to short courses at the MDI Biological Laboratory and research fellowships at INBRE institutions has had a profound impact on career opportunities for its students. “Most professional schools want their applicants to have research experience,” says Kathryn Foster, Ph.D., UMF’s president. “Prior to our involvement in INBRE, we’d send one or two students on to a professional school every three to five years. Now we’re sending one or two students every year.”
In 2009, INBRE expanded to include its first community college, Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) in South Portland. Ninety-four percent of SMCC’s 7,500 students are from Maine, and most will stay and work in Maine. Through SMCC in particular, INBRE has a pronounced effect on Maine’s technically skilled workforce. As SMCC biology professor Elizabeth Ehrenfeld says, “INBRE has made us a more serious scientific entity. Our students have a higher skill level and better understanding of how science really works.”
Thanks to INBRE, SMCC has entered into new collaborations that bridge the public/private divide that often exists in higher education. SMCC students and faculty now share short courses and research fellowships with Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby students and faculty. Says Ehrenfeld, “INBRE has done so much more for us than we could have imagined. We thought it would mean our students could take short courses and we’d have more funding, but it’s really made us much more a part of the scientific community in Maine, both as a school and for our students as individuals.”
Expanding the Research Infrastructure in Maine
The new grant will continue to fund research training for Maine undergraduates through mentored research fellowships and intensive short courses at the MDI Biological Laboratory. It will also support new initiatives, including expanded training opportunities for junior faculty, a new focus on bioinformatics (storing, organizing, and analyzing biological data), establishing collaborations with Maine biotech companies, and enhanced regional collaborations throughout New England.
Ryan Bavis, Ph.D., joined the faculty of Bates College in 2003. The INBRE program initially supported his research, which in turn enabled him to win a competitive federal research grant. “Because of INBRE,” he says, “I was able to expand my experimental approaches. Bates also used INBRE funding to help support the creation of an imaging and computing center and to purchase an oxygen cycling system. My current grant from the National Institutes of Health would not have been possible without that system. I used it to generate my preliminary data.”