MDI Biological Laboratory
Press Release

Largest biological and medical symposium in Maine shines spotlight on state’s future biomedical research workforce

On April 23 and 24 members of Maine’s research community participated in the annual Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium (MBMSS), a state-wide gathering designed to encourage students, scientists and entrepreneurs to share research results, exchange ideas, promote collaboration, and facilitate networking opportunities. 

Hosted by the MDI Biological Laboratory the event, which usually takes place on the Laboratory’s Salisbury Cove campus, took place online this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. But the shift to a virtual forum for the symposium’s 47th iteration didn’t hinder participation, with 150 registrants, 26 guests and 7 invited speakers taking part, numbers that are on par with previous in-person events. Dr. Jane Disney, director of research training at MDI Biological Laboratory and other event organizers worked quickly to transition MBMSS to an online format. “The shift to an online environment was more successful than I had imagined, with many rich exchanges between presenters and participants during the online poster sessions.” Disney said.

The two-day symposium saw 53 undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral researchers from 13 Maine academic and research institutions present and discuss scientific posters summarizing a wide array of research projects and findings. Posters were divided into eight subject categories:  ecology, immunology, development, microbiology, human health, genetics, neurobiology and cell biology. Dr. Iain Drummond, director of the Kathryn W. Davis Center for Aging and Regeneration at MDI Biological Laboratory was impressed with the standard of work, and the confidence of students presenting over online conferencing platform Zoom. “The poster presentations reflected a broad range of current investigations in diverse research fields and the online, live interactions were substantial and informative. MBMSS provides a rewarding opportunity for students and fellows to share their work and obtain feedback, as well as an opportunity to obtain critical training in presentation and communication of research results.” Drummond said. There were also some unexpected positives gained with the shift to an online discussion. “In replying to questions posted in the forum, presenters clearly spent time crafting their answers and providing a more in-depth view of their research. Some attached additional data or figures to support their answers. This added a whole new dimension to the poster session experience,” Disney said.

For the first time, cash awards of $500, $250 and $100 were presented for the best posters. Assesed for appearance, content and presentation by a panel of 24 scientists from across Maine, awards were given for first, second, and third place in three student categories.

Award recipients were:

Undergraduate: 1st and 2nd year
1st place: Ezekiel Robinson, University of Maine, Orono
Low-Dose Arsenic Exposure Impacts the Expression of Orthologous Breast Cancer Associated Genes in Zebrafish Embryos
2nd place: Lauren Cusson, University of Maine, Orono
Epsocamisio, the Little Phage That Could (Without Integrase)
3rd place: Basel White, University of Maine, Orono
Wavelet-Based Automatic Pectoral Muscle Segmentation from Mammograms

Undergraduate: 3rd, 4th, and 5th year
1st place: Lily Charpentier, University of Maine, Orono
Characterization of ncf1 mutants in a zebrafish model of innate immune function with human influenza A virus infection
2nd place: Kodey Silknitter, University of Maine, Orono
Mechanisms of the Hyperinflammatory Response to Influenza Infection
3rd place: Francesca Armstrong, University of Maine, Orono
Utilizing primary astrocytes to characterize the host-trafficking mechanisms that are hijacked during a fatal viral brain infection

Graduate Student (students are in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, The University of Maine, Orono, ME, with placements as indicated)
1st place: Caitlin Wiafe-Kwakye, University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, Orono
Investigating the impact of prophages on bacterial fitness in Streptococcus agalactiae
2nd place: Michael Wilczek, University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, Orono
Determining the road map to JC Polyomavirus infection in primary astrocytes: RNA sequencing reveals important cell signaling pathways activated upon virus infection
3rd place tie: Monique Mills, University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering at The Jackson Laboratory
The mechanisms of TAp63-dependent and -independent DNA damage response in meiotically arrested oocytes
3rd place tie: George Murray, University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering at The Jackson Laboratory
Assessment of SIPA1L2 as a candidate modifier of CMT1A identified in human GWAS

The biomedical field is one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the state, and career options are expanding each year. The symposium also included a career expo featuring a collaborative panel of scientists and recruiters from the The Jackson Laboratory, the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering at University of Maine, IDEXX Laboratories Inc., Maine Medical Center Research Institute and the MDI Biological Laboratory. Panelists provided attendees with key information on what job opportunities currently exist in Maine, as well as the hard and soft skill sets that these employers look for in a candidate. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions about STEM related career paths and progression.

MBMSS is supported in part by the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), a statewide research partnership between the MDI Biological Laboratory and 13 Maine research and academic institutions. The goal of the INBRE program is to enhance Maine’s capacity for biomedical research, including training the state’s future biomedical workforce and creating career opportunities that continue to strengthen the state’s economy. “In addition to exploring traditional academic research careers, we are seeing more and more students interested in pursuing careers in biotech/pharma and other non-academic pursuits. Career forums like this are essential in helping students build an information and mentoring network to learn about opportunities in Maine,” Drummond said.

Additional sponsors of the Maine Biological and Medical Sciences Symposium include the University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, IDEXX Laboratories Inc., and the Maine Technology Institute.

About the MDI Biological Laboratory 

We are pioneering new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on developing new therapeutic approaches that slow age-related degenerative diseases and activate our natural ability to heal. We also prepare students for 21st century careers and equip 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

**Photo supplied by Southern Maine Community College**