April 20, 2018
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Genetics facility plans student internships

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — Discussions have begun to put area high school student scientists into cutting-edge laboratories to work on chronic conditions and diseases that affect Mainers, Superintendent Daniel Lee said recently.

“Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health and Brewer High School are interested in working together,” he said.

Officials from the genetics lab are talking with school leaders from Brewer, Bangor, Hampden Academy, the United Technologies Center in Bangor and Stearns High School in Millinocket, scientist Roger Phipps, bone genomics and cancer department head for the institute, said Tuesday.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned,” he said.

The proposed student intern program has two goals — exposing high school students to scientific fields in hopes of sparking their interest in pursuing science and medical trades, and providing students with training.

“We’re hoping next year to have student interns working … with genetic engineers” on research projects to address chronic conditions many Mainers experience, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and osteoporosis, Lee said.

The proposed internship is in the infant stage of development, so few details about the program have been made final, Phipps said.

“We need to get a program in place, and apply for funding” to move forward, he said. “We’re probably looking at 12 months” before students head to the lab.

The National Science Foundation, or similar agencies, will be asked to help support the program, Phipps said.

Teenagers who take advantage of the internship will gain extraordinary experience, Darrell King, head of Brewer High’s science department, said Tuesday.

“It gives them an opportunity to learn some skills and learn how research work is done … [through] hands-on work,” he said.

The internship probably will be similar to one offered at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, which has an established summer intern program for student scientists from around the globe, King said.

The new Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health internship probably will be offered as an after-school or weekend program, or could be offered during the summer, Phipps said.

The genetics lab is located in Bangor, but future plans are to open a lab in Brewer in 2010 or 2011, Janet Hock, director of the institute, told the Brewer City Council in November 2008.

Five student scientists will work for the genetics lab under the proposed intern program, Phipps said. While work continues to get the program started, groups of students will tour the lab to expose them to what researchers do.

“The institute here has state-of-the-art equipment,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

The tours and the internships should help educate teenagers that there are opportunities right here in the Bangor region, said Phipps, who moved to the area four months ago after working for more than 20 years for Procter & Gamble in the company’s pharmaceutical research department.

“They can work in biotech here, now, rather than go somewhere else,” he said. “You can do things here in Bangor and you don’t have to go to Boston to do this type of work.”



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