BAR HARBOR — Calling 2021-2025 a new dawn for Mount Desert Biological Laboratory (MDIBL), president Hermann Haller at last week’s annual meeting laid out how this new dawn can be achieved: grow the faculty, bring in more visiting scientists and students, develop four new research groups, increase the number of postdoctoral fellows from nine in 2021 to 20 in 2025, establish biotech at MDIBL and expand facilities.
Accomplishing this, said Haller, is not without challenges – a principal challenge is funding. The lab is in the third year of the five-year COBRE (Center of Biological Research Excellence) grant, which funds five of the current 11 research groups; the other six groups are supported by grants for which individual faculty successfully applied. Competing for these grants is not easy, said Haller, since MDIBL must compete with all the other institutions.
One change Haller has initiated is changing the name “summer program” to “science village.” In the early days of the lab, visiting scientists spent summers here, often bringing their own students and postdocs and furthering the research they conducted at their home institutions. Haller’s vision – and one he has already begun – is to have the visiting scientists work with permanent faculty in established research groups focused on aging and regenerative biology. This summer, 12 researchers from Europe and the United States have joined faculty here.
“The campus is a gathering place for preeminent scientists,” said Haller, “where new knowledge is discovered, critically discussed and decimated to the world.”
Haller, who is not only president of MDIBL but also head of nephrology and hypertension at Hannover Medical School in Germany, wants to establish an international connection and bring in postdocs and graduate students from diverse scientific communities. In the U.S., graduate schools are reluctant to send their graduates to another research institution. But in Europe, sending graduate students abroad is seen as a strength. And so Haller is pursuing various initiatives to bring postdoctoral fellows and graduate students to MDIBL.
Germany’s General Research Foundation offers approximately 20 international fellowship each year – fellowships that provide a full salary and travel expenses. By partnering with graduate schools in Germany and France, Haller anticipates having four students each year from Paris and Toulouse and three to five from Hannover. INBRE (Idea Network of Biological Research Excellence), a statewide network of biomedical research institutions, universities and colleges led by the MDI Biological Laboratory and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, provides funding not only for short courses and symposiums but also for undergraduate and graduate students, some of whom conduct research in summer and the academic year at MDIBL.
Over the last three years, the lab has winterized four cottages, and the plan is to winterize more, some apartment style, said Haller. In addition, he wants to expand the existing dining hall, which is winterized, and build a community center where people can meet. Haller recognizes that expanding the campus will not be easy, but “if we are going to have people here, we must take care of them.”
“We are most grateful to the Salisbury Cove Research Foundation for a $500,000 gift to offset some of the cost of these renovations,” said Haller. This foundation, which is managed by the Maine Community Foundation, was founded by Tom Maren, a long-time summer investigator at MDIBL.
Treasurer Tom Boyd pointed out that the lab, despite the difficult times, adapted, made changes and actually grew in 2020. MDIBL received two payroll protection loans – one for $937,000 and the other for $876,847. The first has been forgiven, and Boyd anticipates that the second loan will be forgiven by the close of the calendar year.
MDIBL has net assets of approximately $24 million with $15,750,000 unrestricted and $8,279,000 restricted. In 2020, the lab saw a $349,000 increase in grant applications.
Scientific director Iain Drummond discussed the research of the current groups and highlighted their success in attaining competitive funding and in publishing the results of their work in peer-reviewed journals.