BAR HARBOR, MAINE – The MDI Biological Laboratory has announced that Vicki Losick, Ph.D., has joined the faculty as assistant professor. Losick will head a research team focused on understanding how damaged tissues repair themselves, and how the ability to heal declines as we age.
Losick is studying the basic molecular mechanisms of tissue repair in fruit flies. While most organisms grow new cells to repair and regenerate tissues, fruit flies repair tissues by increasing the volume of existing cells – in other words, by cell growth instead of cell division. In species such as humans and other mammals in which it is difficult to induce cells to divide, cell growth offers an alternative pathway to healing.
The MDI Biological Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution that develops solutions to complex human and environmental health problems through research, education and ventures that transform discoveries into cures.
The addition of Losick brings the number of faculty working in the laboratory’s Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine to eight. Davis Center faculty are studying a variety of organisms such as zebrafish and C. elegans, a type of roundworm, to understand the genes that regulate lifespan and our ability to repair and regenerate damaged tissue.
“This is an exciting time in medicine,” Losick said. “We are beginning to understand how tissues go about healing themselves and — in particular — that healing takes place in multiple ways. This is enormously important for wound healing, but also for the treatment of degenerative diseases such as heart disease and even for the understanding of aging itself: as we age we lose cells, but they are not replaced, so each cell loss is like a mini-wound.”
Losick’s work on the regeneration of heart, eye and liver tissues could some day translate into medical treatments for diseases affecting these organs, such as heart disease and corneal dystrophy, a rare hereditary disorder that can cause blindness, as well as to diseases affecting other types of tissues.
“Losick’s focus on fruit flies diversifies the roster of organisms we are studying at the MDI Biological Laboratory,” said Kevin Strange, Ph.D., president. “When people think of biomedical research, they often think of mouse models. But non-mammalian models such as the fruit fly are important in regenerative biology and aging research because of their capacity to rapidly regenerate lost or damaged tissues and organs and their short lifecycles, which allow us to gain valuable insight in into fundamental questions in days instead of years and for much lower cost.”
Losick said she was excited to be part of a vibrant, rapidly growing institution that is committed to moving discoveries about how to repair and replace damaged and missing tissue from the laboratory into the hands of physicians and patients.
The addition of Losick helps move the institution toward its goal of expanding the number of research faculty from 10 to 15 and the number of employees from 65 to 120 over the coming decade. Establishing a “critical mass” of research faculty is essential to the laboratory’s mission of becoming one of the world’s premier regenerative biology research institutions, Strange said.
Losick’s work is funded through a prestigious Institutional Development Award (IDeA) COBRE (Center of Biomedical Research Excellence) grant totaling nearly $13 million that was awarded by the National Institutes of Health to support research to promote tissue repair and regeneration, the extension of a healthy lifespan and the delay or elimination of age-related diseases.
She comes to the laboratory from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore, where she was a recipient of a prestigious Jane Coffin Childs post-doctoral fellowship. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and a doctorate in microbiology from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.