At the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory Annual Meeting last week, director Kevin Strange, left, presented several awards to people affiliated with the lab for their efforts to insure the organization's continued success. They include, from second on left, David Dawson, Susan Fellner, Mary Deane and Mark Hanscome. On the right is Peter Allen, chairman of the board of trustees. PHOTO COURTESY OF MDIBL

MDIBL holds meeting

By Anne Kozak

BAR HARBOR — Both board Chairman Peter Allen and Treasurer Wistar Morris reported that once again the Mount Desert Island Biology Laboratory (MDIBL) ended the 2014 year fiscally and scientifically strong. “Although we face challenges and some uncertainties, we welcome and appreciate all that members of the corporation and the staff do to ensure the lab’s success and continued viability,” said Allen.

Morris called the lab healthy and poised to move ahead in funding research and educating future scientists. The lab’s net assets, said Morris, are approximately $24 million, an increase of $2.4 million over fiscal year 2013.

The lab receives 68 percent of its operating revenues from the federal government. This includes 48 percent in federal grants and contracts and an additional 20 percent in research subawards, such as awards the lab makes to its INBRE (Idea Network of Biological Research Excellence) partners for training future scientists. An additional 17 percent of the lab’s funding comes from program fees – these include fees that participants pay to register for a course or conference.

In his remarks, MDIBL President Kevin Strange outlined the lab’s three goals for the next several years: to increase the research faculty, to build strategic partnerships and to expand the educational program.

In 2013, MDIBL received a $13 million COBRE (Center of Biomedical Research Excellence) grant to support the growth of the Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine. This award can be renewed for up to 10 years and $18-22 million. One of Strange’s immediate goals is to prepare the renewal grant, for those funds allows the lab to hire young scientists. But these scientists must “graduate” from COBRE funding by acquiring their own grants. “Dustin Updike, who has been here for 2.5 years, ‘graduated’ in April when he was awarded a $1.7 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to conduct independent research at MDIBL,” said Strange.”

Updike studies factors that may make it safer and easier to use stem cells in medical treatments and was the first researcher to demonstrate that if granules are removed from germ line stem cells, the cells lose their stem-cell qualities and become more like muscle or nerve cells.

To replace Updike as a COBRE-funded researcher, the lab has hired Vicki Losick, whose research focuses on wound healing in fruit flies. Losick, who currently conducts research at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore, was one of 183 young scientists who applied for the position, said Strange, and the lab will hire two additional scientists by 2018. For the lab to be financially stable and viable over the long term, it needs to have 15-18 independent research labs with a staff of 150.

Given MDIBL’s geographic location, it is essential, said Strange, to develop new research opportunities and build new partnerships. The lab recently signed a partnership agreement with the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University in Melbourne. Not only will this partnership allow the lab to develop scientific, educational and business connections, but it will also provide opportunities to explore consortiums for discovering and testing treatments for human disease.

MDIBL also recently partnered with Rock Step Solutions, a biotech startup company developing software for managing labs. The company is located on MDIBL’s campus.

Given that the lab receives 17 percent of its income from program fees and given its long-standing commitment to mentoring young scientists, it makes sense for the lab to expand its educational outreach by offering more courses and conferences and by providing more research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Last August, the lab received an $18.4 million INBRE grant. In addition to providing opportunities for students to conduct hands-on research, the INBRE program teaches students to work independently and collaboratively – skills that employers value.

Founded in 2001 and led by Patricia Hand, the principal investigator on the grant and vice president of MDIBL, INBRE is a network comprised of 13 public and private colleges, universities and research institutions. “Together we are united in our goals to create a technically skilled workforce through hands-on research training of undergraduate students, to support faculty to allow them to be more competitive for independent federal funding for research, to improve biomedical research resources at our institutions, and through the above, to strengthen Maine’s economy,” said Hand.

Strange also announced at the meeting that he had just appointed senior researcher Jane Disney as the co-director of the lab’s educational program. Disney recently received a $192,200 grant to further her collaborative environmental research. Disney was one of only three researchers in the U.S. to receive this award.

In concluding the meeting, Allen thanked members of the board – many of whom traveled considerable distances – not only for attending the meeting but also for their long-standing support of MDIBL’s initiatives.

Allen also welcomed the newest board member, Daphne Trotter of Washington, D.C. One of the lead environmental litigators in the U.S., Trotter, who first came to the island when she was two months old, is the granddaughter of Sargent Collier, who in the ‘60s wrote about George Dorr and the founding of Acadia. “We are fortunate to have Daphne joins us, for she knows environmental law,” said Allen. “When we met with the congressional delegation in April, Daphne joined us, and after hearing what was going on here, emailed me to say she wanted to be involved. We took her up on her offer. As we expand the board, we will continue to look at board development in terms of bringing in other members whose expertise and knowledge complement and enhance that of current members, and we will retain that nice blend of old and new members.”

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