BAR HARBOR, MAINE — The MDI Biological Laboratory has received an award of nearly $18 million from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 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. The MDI Biological Laboratory, located in Bar Harbor, is the founder and leader of the 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,” said James A. Coffman, Ph.D., director of the Maine INBRE and associate professor at the MDI Biological Laboratory. “Maine INBRE provides opportunity where it does not otherwise exist.”
The aim of the NIGMS IDeA (Institutional Development Award) program is to build research capacity in the 23 states and Puerto Rico that have historically low levels of NIH funding and lack a strong biomedical research infrastructure.
The INBRE 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 NIH funding, and by improving the research infrastructure of the INBRE network through core facilities that provide state-of-the-art technology and technical expertise.
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 most important impact of the program, however, may be the human element underlying these statistics. 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 is a leader in cutting-edge, biomedical research,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said in a joint statement. “Remaining at the forefront, however, requires maintaining the pipeline of talented graduates of our world-class colleges and universities to research institutions throughout our state. The Maine INBRE program has done extraordinary work to prepare the next generation of scientists by providing support and training to undergraduates and young faculty members.”
“This additional funding will continue to facilitate the expansion of our biomedical research facilities, encourage students to find jobs here in Maine and promote discoveries to improve human health that will benefit people in Maine and around the world,” the statement continued.
“Maine INBRE is a critical component in building the state’s research capacity, including training tomorrow’s biomedical workforce,” said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Ph.D., president of the University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias (UMM). “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,” said Jean Doty, Ph.D., a biology professor at University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). “The faculty training, the resources and the many opportunities for off-site student research training have given our students the skills and knowledge to be successful in both research and healthcare careers.”
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 the MDI Biological Laboratory, including, for example, a recent course in genome engineering for UMF and UMM students. The intensive experience offered by these hands-on programs, which are often the students’ first exposure to scientific research, has been influential in shaping career plans and igniting a thirst for scientific inquiry.
“In the labs at school, you are doing cookie-cutter experiments; you’re under pressure to get an expected answer,” said Colby College student Trisha Mukerjee,19, of Lexington, Mass, who participated in an INBRE short course on the genetic modulators of stress signaling taught by Coffman at the MDI Biological Laboratory earlier this year. “This feels much more tangible than experiments that are spelled out in a lab manual. You are actually creating a path with your thinking — you are connecting the dots.”
Follow-up studies have demonstrated that the Maine INBRE program has led to a 65 percent increase in the number of science majors at participating institutions over the past five years. Nearly 90 percent of program graduates pursue advanced degrees and approximately 20 percent are currently employed in Maine in a wide range of science-, technology- and health-related careers.
Maine INBRE is supported by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH, number P20GM103423. The content of this release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.
About the MDI Biological Laboratory
We are pioneering new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on developing drugs that slow age-related degenerative diseases and activate our natural ability to heal. Our unique approach has identified potential therapies that could revolutionize the treatment of heart disease, muscular dystrophy and more. Through the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation, we are preparing students for 21st century careers and equipping entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to turn discoveries into applications that improve human health and well-being. For more information, please visit mdibl.org.