BAR HARBOR, Maine — In another sign that the biomedical research sector in Maine is expanding, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory has started work on a new construction project at its campus on the shore of Frenchman Bay.
Last week, a few days before The Jackson Lab ceremonially started its $75 million renovation of the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth, the MDI Bio Lab held its own ceremony to initiate construction of a new, 6,500-square-foot training facility in the local village of Salisbury Cove.
The two-story structure will house a 2,476-square-foot laboratory on the first floor and classroom and meeting space on the second floor, according to a news release issued by MDI Bio Lab. The new building will be used to provide training to students and science professionals; for storing, organizing and analyzing biological data, also known as bioinformatics; and to pursue stronger regional educational collaboration and new initiatives with biotech companies in Maine, lab officials indicated in the release.
“We have an impressive track record for delivering the kind of hands-on research training that is essential for growing Maine’s biotechnology economy,” Kevin Strange, president of MDI Bio Lab, said in the statement. “Since 2001, our programs have provided training to more than 2,100 Maine students. The new laboratory will allow us to continue to build the state’s biomedical workforce and strengthen our research and development sector.”
More than 100 people attended the ceremonial groundbreaking, which including many signing their names on a steel beam that will be used to “top off” the structural frame of the new building, according to lab officials.
The new building is being funded with $3 million in state bonds approved by Maine voters in 2014, while $5.7 million in matching federal and private funds will go toward recruiting and funding three associated new research teams, one of which already is in place.
Completion of the new building will free up approximately 1,700 square feet of space in another building, the Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine, which the lab plans to use for the two other research teams it has yet to recruit, according to lab officials.
Peter J. Allen, chairman of the lab’s board of trustees and a surgical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said the new training facility will strengthen the educational opportunities offered by the lab, which already surpass those that were available in Maine when he was growing up in Orono.
“[MDI Bio Lab] is committed to training the next generation of scientists and workers in the biomedical research sector,” Allen said in the statement. “This building represents a real expansion of those opportunities. The chance to learn the details of how to perform science directly from scientists and to be able to take responsibility for their own work is one that is available at very few other places.”
According to lab officials, the seven firms contracted to complete design and construction of the new laboratory are based in Maine. The building is scheduled to be completed by mid-March 2017.
In related news, MDI Bio Lab also has announced that Strange plans to step down from his post as head of the lab in July 2018.
In a separate statement about Strange’s plans to step down, the lab gave him credit for overseeing the following projects:
— The lab’s designation in 2013 by National Institutes of Health as a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence in regenerative biology and aging.
— The spinoff of Novo Biosciences as a biomedical research startup firm.
— The lab’s leadership role in the Maine Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence.
— The successful fundraising of more than $45 million in federal, state and privately donated money.
“Kevin’s contributions can’t be overstated,” Allen said of Strange’s tenure as head of the lab.
“His decision to focus on the biology of aging and regeneration was transformative. Not only has it propelled the institution to a position of international leadership in these rapidly emerging fields, it has also positioned the laboratory at the forefront of a field that promises to revolutionize the practice of medicine.”
Strange, who became the lab’s first full-time director in 2009, will continue to work on the lab’s scientific faculty after he steps down as president, according to the release. He will stay on to serve as director of the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence program, manage his own NIH-funded research lab within MDI Bio Lab, participate in all aspects of junior faculty career development and grow and manage Novo Biosciences.