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Grants boost area life sciences; Medical school, Quinsig benefit.

Byline: Scott O'Connell

WORCESTER -- From enabling high-resolution views of molecules to helping a high school keep its students, a round of life sciences grants announced by the state Monday will make a big difference in Central Massachusetts, the award recipients said.

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center awarded nearly $11 million to schools and colleges in the region this year, about a third of the $35 million the investment agency has given out across the state in total.

The bulk of the money for Central Massachusetts went to the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Quinsigamond Community College, which each received $5 million, the largest award the life sciences center makes available through its competitive grant program.

Nine other schools or school districts received a combination of more than $900,000 for smaller life sciences projects. The largest grant of that bunch went to the Worcester school system, which will use its $265,142 award to buy equipment and ensure laboratory curriculum is the same across the district's six middle schools.

Aisling Novick, an eighth-grader at Burncoat Middle School, where the grants were announced, said science is one of the less popular subjects in her class, in part because of that lack of resources and coordination across the district. As a result, she often finds herself surrounded by students from private schools when she participates in regional science competitions.

"I hope with the funding from this grant, we'll be able to do better in the future,'' she said.

At North Brookfield High School, Principal William Evans said science may be the key to helping his tiny school keep going. North Brookfield High intends to use its $96,750 grant on the rollout of a new engineering program next school year that Mr. Evans said has so far attracted student sign-ups well above expectations.

"You have to have something that makes kids stick around,'' he said, adding that the robotics kits, a 3D printer and other equipment the grant will help the school afford has both parents and students "really excited.''

At UMass Medical School, researchers are also enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy facility the school will build with the life sciences grant.

The technology, which Associate Provost for Biomedical Science Research Jean King said would be the first of its kind in the Northeast, allows a detailed view of molecular activity that will aid the development of new drugs.

"We haven't been able to see the atomic interaction with the drugs'' to the same degree using existing technologies, said medical school faculty member Celia Schiffer, who compared the situation to trying to understand how a car drives without knowing what a car looks like.

"Now, we'll be able to see what's under the hood,'' said Andrei Korostelev, another faculty member.

Quinsigamond will use the award to build new laboratories at its three sites in the region.

Among other life sciences grant recipients announced Monday were: Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School, $26,509; Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, $90,119; Fitchburg High School, $99,215; Massachusetts Academy of Arts and Sciences and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, $100,000; Quabbin Regional, $99,146; Quaboag Regional, $100,000, and Fitchburg Public Schools, $99,095.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:O'Connell, Scott
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 28, 2015
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