EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 17, 2009

Merrimack College opens center for biotech studies

Merrimack College opens center for biotech studies

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — There are more than 400 biotechnology companies in the state, and $1 billion in government funding to promote life sciences. But the state needs more trained workers if it wants to keep its edge in the industry.

And Merrimack College wants to deliver.

The college last week opened its new Center for Biotechnology and Biomedical Sciences — a suite of three laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment like DNA sequencers and a cell culture facility. It was paid for mostly through grants and donations.

The center is the school's way of making its mark in a field that has discovered the newest pharmaceuticals, created break-throughs in the way law enforcement solves crimes, searched for ways to grow human cells and tissue and explored possible cures for the worst of diseases.

"This is the future," said Dr. Josephine Modica-Napolitano, interim dean of science and engineering, and the center's director. "There are endless possibilities here."

Merrimack began to delve into the life sciences field back in 2007, about the same time Gov. Deval Patrick began to push a life sciences bill that would offer the industry $1 billion worth of incentives. The bill passed last year.

Modica-Napolitano worked with other college faculty to create a program where students could major in biology with concentrations in either biomedical science or biotechnology. Since then, she's seen a 60 percent increase in the number of students becoming biology majors.

The center is just the physical example of how far the college has come in the past two years, she said.

While the center is tucked into the second floor of the campus' Mendel Science Center, Modica-Napolitano hopes to one day have an entire life sciences building.

The college held a ribbon cutting Friday, showing off its new equipment to faculty, alumni and state officials like state Rep. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, Rep. David Torrisi, D-North Andover, and Massachusetts Biotechnology Council President Robert Coughlin.

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