BAR HARBOR, Maine — A marine biomedical research institution on Mount Desert Island is getting nearly $13 million from the National Institutes of Health.

Officials with Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory announced Wednesday that the money, $12.8 million, is going to support research to enhance tissue repair and regeneration and to extend healthy life spans. The competitive NIH grant will provide funding for the next five years to scientists working in MDI Bio Lab’s Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine.

According to lab officials, the grant will create 10 new positions and sustain 16 existing ones at the lab over the next five years, with 86 percent of the grant funds to be spent in Maine. Jeri Bowers, spokeswoman for the lab, said Thursday that the lab already has received initial funds from the grant.

“This award builds on the unique strengths of MDIBL and will greatly enhance our research programs and our ability to recruit the best scientists to Maine,” Dr. Kevin Strange, director and CEO of the lab, said in a prepared statement.

In the same statement, Sen. Susan Collins indicated that research funded by the grant could help reduce the cost of health care in America.

“By learning how organisms such as the zebrafish can regenerate damaged tissues and applying these lessons to humans, scientists at MDIBL are increasing our understanding of how we might one day slow and potentially reverse the degenerative effects of aging,” Collins said. “This research could impact the lives of millions of Americans suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes.”

Rep. Mike Michaud added in the joint statement that the grant will provide an economic boost to Maine’s growing biomedical research industry.

“Investing in Maine’s research capacity is critical to our economic future,” Michaud said. “We must continue to recruit and train outstanding young scientists like those at MDIBL who are on the cutting edge of science.”

Bowers said that, with the lab’s recent construction projects, they have the space they need to accommodate added researchers. The lab’s $5 million Davis Center was completed in April 2012, and its $7 million Morris Center was completed in summer 2008.

Bowers said one of the lab’s long-term goals is to establish a “critical mass” of scientists to maintain its position as one of the leading regenerative research institutions in the world. The only other institution in the world that studies regeneration in a variety of organisms, she said, is the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

“This certainly will get us a long way toward that goal,” Bowers said.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....