By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – A research program at Western New England University (WNE) that is advancing the understanding of cancer and a program at Girls Inc. that exposes children to the life sciences were among the local grants announced by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
The announcement was made on April 4 about the $500,000 WNE grant was accompanied with the awarding of $25,000 to Girls Inc. of Holyoke as well as grants to four Western Massachusetts high schools.
Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, described the importance on funding and supporting the life sciences in the Commonwealth.
“The life science cluster has become the fastest job creator in Massachusetts and Massachusetts is producing the jobs faster than any other state,” she said at the announcement event at WNE.
She thanked the state Legislature for funding the grant program and noted that since 2004, $400 million has been spent building the state’s life sciences industry and research.
The WNE grant will be used to purchase equipment to support live cancer cell drug filtration and testing platforms. The university has contracted with two research organizations, Cellular Engineering Technologies and FloDesignSonics for product marketing and research. These companies already have business relationships with Eli Lilly and Merrimack Pharmaceuticals.
Windham-Bannister said the Life Science Center has made investments in programs and companies around the state to help build regional economies. The grants are also being used to support educational program to prepare a trained workforce in this areas, she added.
Dr. Anthony Caprio, president of WNE, said the university is “absolutely committed” to the life sciences and noted the $40 million investment made in the new Center for the Sciences and Pharmacy building as well as a $13 million additional and renovation of Sleith Hall, the home of the university’s engineering programs.
Dr. Anthony English, associate professor of biomedical engineering, explained the research is aimed at providing cancer treatment that is directed toward the individual needs of a patient and lower the cost of the treatment.
Tyler Gerhardson, a junior from Chicopee majoring in biomedical engineering, said, “It is inspiring to see our professors bring the ideas to prototypes and then to market.”
The $25,000 grant to Girl’s Inc. will help fund the expansion of “Eureka!” program for girls from ages 12 to 18. The students are encouraged to seek secondary education and careers in scientific, technical, engineering and mathematical (STEM) field.
Sarah Dunton, the director of the program, explained the students are from Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee and are brought to the University of Massachusetts to learn about such technology as three-dimensional printing.
The four high schools which received grants were: $26,250 to Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional High School to support its STEM programs; $95,645 to Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School for its “Leading the Way Curriculum;” $44,767 to Springfield High School of Science and technology for its digital electronic micro-controller lab; and $99,436 to its STEM program.