SCARBOROUGH (AP) -The Maine Medical Center Research Institute announced Tuesday it has received an $11.2 million grant that it hopes will put it at the forefront of stem cell research.

The National Institutes of Health awarded the five-year grant to MMCRI to establish a nonprofit research center in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

The hospital estimates that the center, called the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, will pump about $2.2 million into the local economy annually for the next five years.

Around $1.3 million of that will be spent on new jobs, including research assistants, and the purchase of local supplies and services, according to Maine Medical Center.

Joseph Verdi is the director of the new center and the project’s principal investigator.

Around 12 researchers will work on the project, which will be a “focused research effort on using stem cells as models of human molecular disease,” he said.

Human embryonic stem cells are valued by researchers because they are primitive blank-slate cells that have not yet begun to grow into specific kinds of cells, such as brain or pancreatic or heart cells.

The hope is that scientists will be able to guide the growth of stem cells so they can then be used to replace diseased cells in the body, helping to treat diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other diseases and making organ transplantation obsolete.

“This way we can really do noninvasive therapy. It’s a lot easier to give somebody a pill” to create new cells than undertake surgery, Verdi said.

The grant is the second biomedical research excellence grant the institute has received from the National Institutes of Health.

The previous grant established the institute that focuses on angiogenesis.

AP-ES-10-02-03 1345EDT

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