Maine voters will decide in November whether to build a new “mouse hospital” to be used by scientists from across the country for cancer research, potentially creating more than 200 well-paying jobs at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, according to officials with the nonprofit institution.
If voters say “yes” to a $10 million bond, they would set a plan in motion for construction of a 20,000-square-foot facility – about the size of a large grocery store – on The Jackson Laboratory campus, said Michael Hyde, the lab’s vice president for external affairs. The Legislature approved the bill this session and Gov. Paul LePage signed it Monday, which means the borrowing plan will go before voters.
Although research institutions must bid for the $10 million in a competitive process, the concept was brought to the Legislature by officials at The Jackson Laboratory, Hyde said. The bond would be earmarked specifically for building a large mouse-research facility. The only likely competitor for the project would come from outside Maine.
“The serious competition, if any, would be global and not from elsewhere in the state,” Hyde said.
He said that over 10 years, the project would create 200 or more jobs paying an average of $70,000 annually, including dozens of scientist jobs, supported by technical and other positions.
The Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research lab that employs about 1,300 people in Maine, houses more than 300,000 mice and ships nearly 2.7 million mice each year to researchers in more than 60 countries.
The new “biometric analysis center,” as it would be called, would contain specialized testing equipment, such as mouse-sized MRI machines, imaging devices and equipment that measures blood chemistry. The “mouse hospital” would be a place where outside scientists could spend time conducting research, or could send their mice for testing by the lab’s own scientists.
Several thousand mice would be housed at the research facility, which would take about two years to build, Hyde said.
The facility is aimed at addressing a demand for studying strains of mice that more closely mimic the human body, since previous mice trials have long been seen as unreliable for determining the best treatment for cancers and other diseases. Cancer would be the top priority, but Hyde said the center could be used for many types of scientific research.
The $10 million in public funds would be matched with $11 million raised by the laboratory, he said. About half of the $21 million would be spent on specialized medical equipment to test mice.
“Even though it’s a lot smaller, in many cases the medical equipment is just as expensive as for humans,” Hyde said. “It’s custom-order equipment.”
Asked why taxpayers should be called on to fund the project, Hyde said it could take years to raise all of the money privately, during which another research center could build a similar facility and meet the demand.
“This is our moment in time to put the state of Maine on the world stage,” Hyde said. “If we spend three to four years raising money, our moment may pass and California or some other place may build a similar facility.”
The proposal was scaled back during negotiations with the Legislature from a $31 million project. The measure had bipartisan support and is one of the few bond issues to pass muster over the past several years.
In a media release, Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said the project “will help advance lifesaving cancer research as well as grow our economy and create good-paying jobs for the people of Maine.”
Also Monday, LePage signed a $3 million bond bill for the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research institution, The Associated Press reported. Another bond proposal he signed would provide $8 million for a lab at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: