BAR HARBOR — In charting a new direction for MDI Biological Laboratory, President Herman Haller has said the laboratory is focusing on four pillars: faculty, visiting scientists, education and biotechnology. That focus not only provides a clear direction for the laboratory but define its structure, said Haller at last week’s annual meeting.
When he assumed the presidency last July, his challenge was “to chart a new course while maintaining a connection with the scientific history that includes groundbreaking discoveries in fields ranging from oncology to kidney disease.”
And by all measures he is succeeding. For the last 15 years, year-round faculty focused primarily on mechanisms of regeneration and aging — a focus that put the lab in a position of global leadership.
While some faculty will continue this research direction, Haller’s goal is to recruit new faculty, develop courses and organize a symposium for 2020 — all of which will explore the interface between aging and regeneration.
The lab has developed a short list of eight potential faculty and will hire two with funding from the $2.5 million COBRA grant which was renewed for five years in 2018. With external funding, Haller also anticipates hiring an additional person with expertise in environmental genetics and bioinformatics.
Last year Haller committed to revitalizing the summer visiting science program. This summer, the lab hosted 15 visiting scientists from the United States and Germany. Of these visiting scientists, six are working with Haller on kidney research that includes aging and regeneration.
One of these, Iain Drummond, will join MDIBL in October as a professor and senior scientist. Currently Drummond is a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. As a senior scientist, Drummond, said Haller, “will provide the expertise, guidance and inspiration required to build a critical mass of skilled faculty.”
In addition to developing courses and a symposium, the education pillar is poised to continue to train scientists and to promote data literacy.
This year, the $18.3-million INBRE (Idea Network of Biological Research Excellence) award was renewed for an additional five years with Jim Coffman as the principal investigator.
In addition to funding new postdoctoral students and new investigators, the grant provides funding for undergraduate and graduate students to work at MDIBL, The Jackson Laboratory and several Maine public and private colleges.
Jane Disney, director of education, received two grants this year.
A $382,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will provide funding for research experiences for undergraduates, more commonly known as REUs. She also received a five-year, $1.2-million SEPA (Science Education Partnership Award) to promote data literacy for middle and high school students in Maine.
The focus of the fourth pillar — biotechnology — is to advance translational medicine. That means taking results from basic research to address specifics needs of individual patients.
As they expand into North America, two German-based life science companies will join the five other start-up companies located on MDIBL’s campus. The two new companies, Phenos GmBH and H3M Development, will collaborate with MDIBL researchers as they develop and test pharmaceuticals.