BAR HARBOR – MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor has been awarded a five year, $12 million Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant (COBRE).
The same lab leaders were awarded a different COBRE grant in 2013, which helped them research a heart drug candidate.
Researchers at MDI Biological Laboratory have been using fish and mice to find a way to regenerate heart muscle tissue in humans.
“For every problem that we face as a society, nature has already perfected a perfect solution,” said Dr. Voot Yin, a faculty member at the lab who has worked on the project.
Lab staff said when humans have a heart attack, the damaged part of the heart never repairs and leaves the person at a greater risk for more heart problems. Cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death in the world.
So instead of leaving people to get heart transplants, the scientists in Bar Harbor are working on a drug candidate that would regrow the tissue, by stimulating dormant capacities for regeneration in humans.
First they experimented the drug, called MSI-1436, on zebrafish.
The drug “was stimulating the repair of that [zebrafish] tissue by three-hundred percent,” said Dr. Kevin Strange, the president at MDI Biological Laboratory.
Then researchers used a mouse heart attack model, which also worked.
Next they’re looking to use the drug candidate on pigs, which they said have similar hearts to humans. They hope, with more experimentation, to soon be using the drug on humans.
“I like to say that if you have a pet mouse that has had a heart attack, you come to us because I know that we can help you,” said President Strange. “What I can’t say yet is whether this will work in humans, but what I can say is that everything keeps pushing us to try.”
The lab will be using this new, highly competitive COBRE grant to keep funding their research on regeneration and aging.
Meanwhile President Strange will soon be stepping down as president, to become CEO of Novo Biosciences, the biotech company that oversees the development of MSI-1436.
“We’ve never slowed down,” he said. “We’ve never stopped, we’ve never gone backwards, we’ve always had momentum behind us that keeps moving us.”
If this drug candidate does work on humans it could be used to treat damage in all sorts of human tissues, like with spinal cord injuries.