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Maine Program Gets $18 Million to Combat Brain Drain

Jay Field

A statewide biomedical research program is receiving an $18 million federal grant to continue work that's helping to combat Maine's so-called brain drain. That's the term given to the phenomenon of young people leaving the state after high school or college to look for work elsewhere. Founded in 2001, the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence has trained more than 2,000 students at 13 public and private colleges, universities and research institutions throughout the state.

Some of those training opportunities take place here, inside the Updike Lab at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

"And this is one of the bigger microscopes that we have," says Anne Campbell, who has been hunched over this microscope this morning in the dark, studying a DNA smear from a nematode or roundworm. Campbell is doing research on germ cells in these worms, which work like human stem cells. "We can zoom all the way in. And this is the DNA in the nucleus of different cells in the animal. So we can get a really clear idea of what is happending in an organism, using microscopes like this."

Campbell, 24, graudated from the University of Maine in Orono in 2012 with bachelor's degrees in chemistry and biochemistry. As a memeber of UMaine's Honors College, she took a weeklong winter course at MDI Bio Lab called Functional Genomics, paid for by the Maine INBRE, the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence.

"So I participated in that for that one week when I was a junior," she says. "And from that, I met my thesis adviser. And with those two resources, I was able to develop a thesis project, basically based off this INBRE-funded course here."

Led by MDI Bio Lab, the INBRE program dates back to 2001 and includes The Jackson Laboratory and the University of Maine, the University of Maine Honors College, Southern Maine Community College, the University of Maine at Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle, and four private colleges: College of the Atlantic, Colby, Bates and Bowdoin. The program paid for a fellowship for Campbell to continue the research as she applies to graduate school, and has provided similar training for more than 2,000 other young people in Maine.

Credit Jay Field / MPBN
Susan Collins

"For years, I have advocated for nore collaboration between Maine's research and development labs and Maine's students," says U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the woman who has already helped Maine INBRE secure $100 million in funding, standing outside beneath a big white tent to announce another federal grant — totaling $18 million. "It's not surprising to me that the INBRE funding has led to the creation of more than 200 jobs in our state and I'm sure it's going to lead to many more."

Collins says this latest grant, from the National Institutes of Health, will allow the program to keep operating for another five years.

Darron Collins, College of the Atlantic president, says the program is playing a leading role in helping COA and the state combat a threat to its long-term economic health.

"At COA, only 17 percent of our students come from the state of Maine, but 30 percent stay in the state of Maine," he says. "So COA is remarkable example of reverse brain drain and INBRE has really helped drive that."

Campbell, meantime, is busy apply for graduate school. She's leaning toward continuing her education out west somewhere, but says she's open to, and is excited by, the possibility of returning to Bar Harbor in the future to continue her work at MDI Bio Lab.