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Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine:
What could develop are academic programs in bioinformatics, genomics, genetic counseling and personalized medicine. There also is the potential for new degree programs to develop.
“This agreement formalizes our intent to identify areas of excellence and promise at FGCU, and we will match those areas with the strategic goals of the Jackson Laboratory,” FGCU President William Bradshaw said in a statement. “It is in these areas of common interest that formal educational programs and partnerships will develop, and through these partnerships, we will help strengthen regional economic development.”
Bradshaw was traveling and unavailable for comment Friday.
FGCU Provost Ronald Toll said there is a letter of intent between FGCU and the nonprofit Jackson. Discussions about ways to collaborate began months ago.
The Economic Development Council has spearheaded an effort to have the Bar Harbor, Maine-based Jackson develop a genetics research center near Ave Maria, on 50 acres that would be donated by the Barron Collier Co. The research would focus on the emerging field of personalized medicine, where gene variation in individuals can make them predisposed to certain illnesses. In Maine, Jackson scientists are involved in gene research involving genetically-altered mice which the lab produces for its own purposes and to sell to other research institutes around the world.
The Collier County Commission is considering backing the lab with a $130 million in taxpayer money as a match to state incentive funding. The state Legislature this past spring earmarked $50 million in first-year funding and would have to approve the remaining $80 million in subsequent years.
The concept is for Jackson to serve as an anchor for the development of a biomedical park with the presence of a university program, a hospital, other medical-related entities and for-profit companies.
With respect to FGCU and the lab, some of the earliest interaction could involve Jackson scientists having visitation status and lecturing on campus about their research. A next step, once Jackson has a physical presence in Collier, would be internships for students at the lab.
“Certainly there are opportunities for students to move into a number of very exciting internships,” Toll said.
From an academic standpoint, FGCU has biotechnical and clinical lab programs and faculty whose knowledge could dovetail into academic focuses in bioinformatics and personalized medicine.
“There are a lot of pieces to that,” he said, referring to personalized medicine. “We’re looking at exploring all different areas and moving forward with areas that make sense to us.”
With respect to new degree programs, Toll said they generally take two or three years to get off the ground, depending on what’s needed for faculty, equipment and space. The cost can vary tremendously but, at this point, there has been no talks of endowed faculty positions. Likewise, there has not been any discussion with lab officials about financial issues.
“There are no financial commitments in either direction at this time,” Toll said. “We’re early in this relationship, certainly.”
Another area of discussion is sharing of resources and collaborative research, and the possibility for Jackson representatives to serve on FGCU advisory boards.
“We often have community members serve on advisory boards,” he said, adding that FGCU sees the potential relationship with Jackson as a great asset.
“We see nothing but positive things coming from this relationship,” he said.
Jackson also has a memorandum of understanding with the University of South Florida in Tampa to collaborate on research, educational and clinical programs. Edison State College has expressed interest in establishing a charter school at the potential biomedical village and a start-up company in California, Athleticode Inc., which focuses on gene research of athletes, likewise is interested.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman