Maine Scientist Wins $1.7M Federal Grant For Wound Healing Research

By Ramona du Houx

Vicki P. Losick of the MDI Biological Laboratory has been recognized as an “outstanding investigator” by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for her research on wound healing. The designation carries a grant award in the amount of about $348,000 per year for five years, or a total of about $1.7 million.

According to Losick non-healing wounds cost Americans $50 billion a year, making it one of the most costly health conditions. 

"If your wounds don't heal you're at a higher risk for infection, and that's a considerable problem for Maine, where we have an aging population," said Losick. “For some tissues it's actually very difficult for them to divide, so this offers an alternative strategy for them to get back that missing tissue."

The grant will support Losick’s research on the regulation of polyploidization in wound repair. Polyploidization is a mechanism that supports cell enlargement by duplicating chromosome number.

A key step in healing is the replacement of cells that have been lost or damaged by injury or disease. Previously, the body was thought to achieve this primarily through cell division, or increasing the number of cells. However, Losick has identified polyploidy, or cell enlargement, as a common element in the body’s healing arsenal and has demonstrated the benefits of this alternative repair strategy.

Losick’s (photo right) research has implications beyond wound healing, however, since polyploid cell growth also is associated with cancer and other degenerative diseases, including heart and liver diseases. Her goal is to identify the factors that regulate the creation of these extra-large cells in order to promote a beneficial response and to limit the degenerative consequences.

Her research is conducted in the fruit fly, drosophila, one of the diverse animal models used to study genetic regulation of tissue repair, regeneration and aging at the MDI Biological Laboratory.

“Losick has made an important contribution to biomedical science in the discovery of polyploidy as an alternative wound healing strategy,” said Kevin Strange, president of the MDI Biological Laboratory. “Her research exemplifies the institution’s mission of developing therapies that draw on the body’s innate ability to heal.”

The Outstanding Investigator Award for Early Stage Investigators, which was introduced last year, is an extension of the NIH’s MIRA program, the goal of which is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of science funding by supporting an investigator’s overall program of research through a single unified grant rather than through multiple, smaller grants.

“The premise of the MIRA award is to allow researchers to focus on the vision and impact of their research programs,” said Losick. “Since the award is not tied to a specific set of experiments, the funding stability it offers will allow my group the freedom to go in new directions and to tackle ambitious problems as they arise. It will allow me to focus on mentoring my trainees and performing research that could one day unlock the key to polyploidy’s role in health and disease.”

The award is supported by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus S. King Jr. (I-ME), who have been advocates of NIH-funded research support as a means of maintaining the nation’s position as global leader in biomedical research, and of saving lives and reducing health care costs in Maine and throughout the country.

“The MDI Biological Laboratory is on the cutting edge of scientific research, and Maine is fortunate to have dedicated scientists like Dr. Losick working to advance modern medicine right here in our home state,” the senators said in a joint statement. “This grant funding, coupled with Dr. Losick’s outstanding work, will ensure the MDI Biological Laboratory can continue its research into healing serious wounds that impact countless Americans and their families across our country.”

Losick joined the MDI Biological Laboratory in January 2016. The MIRA grant is based on research she conducted under Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) funding from the NIH, which is designed to help early-stage scientists transition to competitive grant support from the NIH and other public and private organizations.