Six faculty awarded inaugural Biomedical Science Accelerator Fund grants

The College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture has awarded its inaugural Biomedical Science Accelerator Fund grants.

Early-career faculty are currently the largest segment of faculty in the college. Recognizing the enthusiasm and vibrancy these individuals bring to campus, the college established the Biomedical Sciences Accelerator Fund to support faculty research projects that, in turn, will generate the data necessary for highly competitive external funding programs. The goal is for startup funding to lay the groundwork for larger projects in biomedical sciences.

The fund, made possible by a gift from alumna C. Ann Merrifield, supports mid-career faculty with established research programs who may need bridge funding between grants. It also requires researchers to share the results of their work with non-scientists following the project’s completion.

To learn more or to support the fund, which is part of the UMaine Vision for Tomorrow comprehensive campaign, contact the University of Maine Foundation.

The initial projects will take place over a two year period. The 2019 awardees are:

  • Melissa Maginnis and Benjamin King of the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences: “Defining cell-type specific differences in transcriptional regulation of viral infection,” $30,000, to characterize how the JC polyomavirus, which infects the kidneys of up to 80 percent of the population with little effect, develops into an active infection in the central nervous system of some immunocompromised individuals.
  • Melody Neely and Sally Molloy of the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences: “Investigation of the role of bacteriophages in Streptococcus agalactiae virulence,” $30,000, to identify the genetic markers that affect the virulence of Group B streptococcus, the bacteria that colonizes about 25 percent of the adult population and can develop into a fatal infection in immunocompromised individuals, especially pregnant women and their developing babies. Similar studies that identify virulence mechanisms are often an early step in developing treatments and vaccines for pathogens like Group B streptococcus.
  • Rob Wheeler and Melody Neely of the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences: “Polymicrobial virulence and treatment: using zebrafish to untangle a tri-kingdom dialog,” $35,000 for a graduate student who will study the co-infection mechanisms of common hospital-acquired pathogens in zebrafish — the first study of its kind to examine polymicrobial infections and antimicrobial resistance in living organisms.
  • Kristy Townsend of the School of Biology and Ecology: “Graduate Student Recruitment to Translate Basic Biology to NIH-funded Human Health Research,”  $17,000, partial support for a graduate student who will collect pilot data to determine if a novel stem cell marker found in mice that also is present in human brains. If the markers are present, this will open the door to applying previously conducted basic research to treating or preventing human neurodegenerative conditions.

Contact: Erin Miller, 207.581.3204

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