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Home - Why and How of Human Disease – Winter 2009

ChristopherMcCarty074 2Understanding how cancerous tumors grow. Learning why some people feel pain more acutely than others. Searching for ways to cure vascular diseases.

In biomedicine, the focus is on the basic underlying processes — how our bodies work. Greater understanding of disease through biomedical sciences research holds the promise of better treatment tools and improved approaches to prevention, as well as the potential for the ultimate outcome: a cure.

That biological approach to tackling some of today’s toughest medical questions is occurring at seven of Maine’s leading research institutions. That’s also where the state is training its next generation of biomedical scientists.

Entering its fifth year, the University of Maine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) grew out of a commitment to improve the state’s public health, and create research and development capacity for Maine. Currently, there are five tracks — molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, toxicology and functional genomics — with others under development.

Students collaborate with more than 80 world-class researchers from UMaine and six partners — The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor; Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Salisbury Cove; Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Scarborough; University of New England, Biddeford and Portland; Maine Institute of Human Genetics & Health, Brewer and Bangor; and University of Southern Maine, Portland.

“What we’re hoping is that this pool of Ph.D. scientists can stay in the state, have jobs in the state, and develop new companies, contributing to the economy in Maine,” says GSBS Director Carol Kim, a microbiologist whose research focuses on molecular virology and host response to infectious disease. “We want to increase the visibility of biomedical research throughout the state.”

The springboard for GSBS was a research triangle — UMaine, The Jackson Laboratory and Maine Medical Center Research Institute — that offered the state’s first Functional Genomics Ph.D. Program, funded in 2002 by a $2.6 million National Science Foundation IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) grant. In 2006, four more research tracks and four research facility partners were added to establish the graduate school.

Initial funding for GSBS student support came from the Maine legislature using scholarship funding from the new racino revenues. That was followed by two years of funding by UMaine through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.

Funding for the next two years was appropriated by the legislature as a result of the enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage provided in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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