Grant looks to keep scientists in Maine

Posted May 21, 2009, at 9:15 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A statewide network aimed at boosting Maine’s biomedical research capacity and creating a feeder network for Maine science students who hope to find work in the state is getting a significant boost with more than $18 million in federal grant funding.

The money is expected to fund educational biomedical research programs in Maine for Maine students and to provide funding for 11 new research scientists in the state, according to officials with the Maine Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. Overall, 96 new full-time research and administrative positions are expected to be created over the next five years with the grant money.

“It specifically targets young scientists,” said Jeri Bowers, public affairs director for Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor. Research funded by the grant is reserved for scientists who have not received federal funding previously, she said Thursday. The grant also is intended to encourage Maine students to pursue biomedical research careers and to help the industry grow in Maine.

“The idea is to create jobs for these undergraduates,” Bowers said.

The award of the $18.7 million grant was announced Thursday in Augusta by Maine INBRE administrators and partners and by Gov. John Baldacci.

MDI Bio Lab is the main administrative partner in Maine INBRE, which was created in 2001. Other partners include The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges, Southern Maine Community College, College of the Atlantic, and University of Maine branches in Orono, Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle.

As the level of biomedical research has grown in Maine, so has its importance to the state’s economy, according to officials who announced the grant award on Thursday. Since 2001, Maine INBRE has received more than $25 million in federal funding.

The Maine INBRE network is similar to collaborative research networks between colleges and laboratories in other states. All of the programs, including the one in Maine, are funded by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Institutes of Health.

Bowers said the INBRE program is expected to provide fellowships, training and research opportunities to more than 1,000 Maine high school, undergraduate and graduate students over the next five years. Many of those students will take courses offered at the MDI Bio Lab campus in Bar Harbor, she said, but the grant also will help them pursue their own biomedical research at their schools.

The other big component of the grant is funding for 11 young scientists throughout the state, according to Bowers. By providing funding for young scientists, the grant can keep them in Maine or attract them to the state and get them started in their research. When the next round of INBRE funding is announced in another four or five years, Bowers said, these new scientists should be established enough to find other funding sources and another generation of young scientists will be eligible for the Maine INBRE program.

“That is our hope,” Bowers said.

One such scientist is Dr. Andrew Christie, a Farmingdale native who has an INBRE-funded research position at MDI Biological Laboratory. Christie, who attended Bowdoin and later worked on the West Coast, returned to Maine last year from the University of Hawaii, according to a statement prepared by MDI Bio Lab about the INBRE grant.

“As someone who was born and raised in Maine, it has always been my dream to come back here and pursue a career in science,” Christie said in the statement.

According to Bowers, the program has been expanded this year. It started out in 2001, when it was known as the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network, with only Bates, Colby and University of Maine as partners with the two Bar Harbor research laboratories. New this year, she said, is the ability of high school students to participate and the formal inclusion of Southern Maine Community College and the UMaine campuses in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.

Gov. John Baldacci, speaking Thursday in Augusta, said the grant should help solidify the future of Maine’s biomedical research industry.

“Thanks in large part to the Maine INBRE [program], we will continue building a sophisticated, educated work force to support research in Maine and enhance our capacity to be a leader in science and technology,” Baldacci said in a prepared statement. “I am particularly pleased that Maine students are learning that they don’t have to leave the state to have a meaningful, rewarding career in science.”

More information about the program is available on the Internet at www.maineidea.net.

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