UMFK student joins drug research effort

BAR HARBOR, Maine — An undergraduate from the University of Maine at Fort Kent will be the first participant in a new drug development and clinical summer research program at Eastern Maine Medical Cancer (EMMC) Cancer Care offered through Maine INBRE, a statewide biomedical training and research network led by the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

Biology major Jessica Kozachuk will learn about cancer care during the 10-week program for students from the Universities of Maine at Fort Kent and Presque Isle. Under the guidance of EMMC Cancer Care mentor scientists, she will also participate in pre-clinical research on medicines to treat leukemia and lymphoma and in research involving industry-sponsored patient clinical trials for cancer treatments.

“Both campuses have strong practical biomedical training programs — Fort Kent in nursing and Presque Isle in medical technology,” said James A. Coffman, Ph.D., director of the Maine INBRE program and an associate professor at the MDI Biological Laboratory. “The EMMC Cancer Care partnership will provide valuable experience for students interested in pursuing clinically oriented biomedical careers.”

The pilot program could potentially be expanded in the future to students from the other Maine INBRE institutions, Coffman said.  

As leader of the Maine INBRE program, the MDI Biological Laboratory has provided biomedical training for more than 2,100 Maine students since the federally funded program’s inception in 2001, most of it in basic research. The new partnership will broaden the program’s scope with opportunities to work in drug development and clinical research.    

“As a community-based cancer center and hospital, we have a strong commitment to the community,” said EMMC Cancer Care senior research scientist Lindsay Shopland, Ph.D., education director and an INBRE program mentor. “We’re very interested in developing Maine’s workforce. This program will give students from northern Maine a chance to learn about our work to advance cancer research.”

Shopland, who grew up in rural New Hampshire, said participation in such programs can be an eye-opening experience for rural students who aren’t aware of the many exciting careers that are available in science.

The program is funded through the National Institutes of Health. The partnership will also benefit EMMC Cancer Care by introducing more students into the institution’s laboratory culture.  

“Students are invigorating — they bring new ideas and new understanding and a lot of youthful energy,” said Shopland, who launched the student program at EMMC Cancer Care, which also includes students from Bangor High School and the University of Maine. “They force their mentors to explain things, which keeps us grounded in the fundamentals. We learn every time we teach.”

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