MDI Biological Laboratory

COBRE Research

The MDI Biological Laboratory’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program supports the set-up and growth of innovative, state-of-the-art biomedical research centers at institutions in IDeA (an NIH program that strengthens research capacity in states that historically have had lower levels of NIH funding) states via three award phases, each lasting five years.

COBRE Phases I and II focus on building capacity for investigators, developing their research to be competitive for external research funding. MDI Bio Lab is currently in the last year of Phase II. In our proposal for Phase III we aim to continue support for the research cores developed during the first two COBRE phases and continue to develop a robust, interdisciplinary research environment.

Our Successes

The MDI Biological Laboratory’s COBRE award has two specific aims:

  1. Create a Center of Biological Research Excellence focused on addressing fundamental questions in regenerative biology using diverse animal models and comparative biology approaches.
  2. Provide junior faculty with enhanced resources and mentoring activities that will facilitate their transition to independence.

Over the first two phases of the MDI Biological Laboratory COBRE award, nine investigators have been supported to develop their research to the point of being competitive for indepedant funding opportunities.

Current COBRE Project Leaders

Previous COBRE Project Leaders

Sam Beck
Disruption of CpG Island-Mediated Gene Regulation and Chromatin Architecture in Progeria and Aging

James Coffman
Stress, genomic instability, and loss of regenerative capacity with age

James Godwin
Defining macrophage-nerve dependent signals in the regulation of limb regeneration

Vicki Losick
The molecular mechanisms regulating wound-induced polyploidy

Sandra Reiger
Regulation of Cutaneous Axon Regeneration by Wound-derived H2O2

Jarod Rollins
Defining the rold of Ribosome protein compositiomn on regulating the selective translation of pro-longevity genes

Dustin Updike
The Role of Germ Granules in Maintaining Cellular Self-renewal and Totipotency

Voot Yin
Genetic Analysis of Natural Reprogramming during Regeneration

COBRE Pilot Project Funding

Current Pilot Projects:

Damien W. Carter, M.D.

In 2022, the MDI Bio Lab’s COBRE program awarded this pilot project to Damien W. Carter, M.D., of MaineHealth. Burn injuries, slow rates of healing, and failed skin grafts are major healthcare challenges in the aging population. Interventions that improve wound repair and regeneration are needed to reduce morbidity and mortality as we age.

Dr. Carter is studying a novel intervention at the level of the cell nucleus that would reduce inflammation and improve regenerative healing after burn injuries. Pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) is a promising target molecule that regulates metabolism and the immune response after burn injury. This enzyme is usually associated with chemical energy production but has a recently-discovered second life as a regulator of inflammation. Using novel drugs to shift the molecular form of PKM2 away from its pro-inflammatory form to a pro-metabolism form, this study aims to boost metabolism and, at the same time, show an anti-inflammatory, pro-regenerative benefit for patients recovering from burn injury.

Previous Pilot Projects:

Suzanne Angeli, Ph.D.

A COBRE pilot project was awarded in 2022 to Suzanne Angeli, Ph.D., a molecular and cellular biologist at the University of Maine. Angeli is using transgenic C. elegans roundworms to illuminate how signals between the reproductive system and the rest of the body may enhance longevity.

Inter-organ communication is increasingly viewed as a driver of aging. But how tissues signal each other to regulate aging remains a mystery. One well-studied example, observed from roundworms to humans, shows that inhibition of reproductive capacity in early life leads to longevity and prolonged healthspan of other organs. These findings suggest an ongoing dynamic between reproductive cells—the germline — and other tissues when an organism experiences stressors such as food scarcity. When reproduction is inhibited in response to stress, the germline appears to signal non-reproductive somatic tissues (muscle, skin, heart, etc.) to generate responses that enhance survival and fitness. Using a long-lived mutant of the C. elegans roundworm, Dr. Angeli aims to decode communication between the reproductive tract and somatic tissues that regulate aging. She is pursuing germline-specific signals that influence the activities of energy-generating mitochondria in other organs, such as the intestines. Mitchondrial decline is highly associated with aging, and this effort will significantly advance our understanding of inter-tissue communication and its impact on aging.

Rosemary Smith, Ph.D.

A COBRE pilot project grant was awarded in 2019 to Dr. Rosemary Smith of the University of Maine to develop a prototype device to detect diabetic neuropathy. The theme of Professor Smith’s research is the application of interdisciplinary knowledge to engineer new molecular and cellular measurement and/or manipulation methods and tools. Her projects typically involve micro and nano-fabrication of devices and instruments, materials process engineering and microfluidics.

Peripheral neuropathy is a diabetic complication and a growing health concern.  To detect early-stage diabetic peripheral neuropathy in skin and underlying tissue, Dr. Smith developed a microneedle electrode array with optimized electrode material and design. Her team validated their device using a mouse model and assembled microneedle electrodes into arrays using 3D printing and custom printed circuits. COBRE Pilot funding prepared Dr. Smith’s team to pursue commercialization of the device and allowed them to test it on mouse diabetes models  Results acquired under this pilot award were used to advance the commercialization of the device, through funding from an National Science Foundation (NSF) Phase 1 Small Busines Techonology Transfer (STTR) grant, awarded June 2020. This award will support continued preclinical mouse studies and extensive data analysis required to determine diagnostic relevance in humans.