Josh Hamilton, the chief academic and scientific officer of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), likes to point out that we humans share the same basic genes with starfish. But there's one main difference: "Starfish can regenerate their arms," says Hamilton. "Why can't we?"

Thanks, in part, to a recent Recovery Act award, the MBL can now try to answer this question and others related to regenerative biology.

The Marine Biological Laboratory received $802,500 in federal stimulus funds through the National Institutes of Health. It is part of an initiative to establish a Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Laboratory which was spearheaded by a $10 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and a matching $15 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Angus McQuilken, vice president for communications at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, point out that regenerative medicine is a growing field within life sciences. "The funding will provide the Marine Biological Laboratory with the ability to completely renovate and allow for broader inquiry into regenerative medicine and more potential to improve human health," says McQuilken.

The Recovery Act award will enable the Laboratory to staff the new center and provide them with start up funds. "We will be able to hire two researchers at the faculty level," says Hamilton. "The timing was really good for us. When this ARRA grant came out we realized it was a perfect match for us."

Hamilton emphasizes that the ARRA grant is an important component to the success of the new Center. "We greatly appreciate the funding from the State to renovate our labs and create this new Center, "says Hamilton, "and the new facilities will greatly enhance our research. But of course science is done by scientists, and this will now enable us to recruit the best and brightest minds to the MBL to make new discoveries in this important new field that will ultimately benefit all of us."

Hamilton says the focus of the new center is to use marine and other aquatic organisms, with the goal of understanding how they regenerate."Others are looking at human stem cells but our niche is looking at lower organisms and how we can learn from them," he says. "It's a complimentary focus."

Hamilton notes that the Laboratory gave the NIH a commitment to sustain these positions once the two-year grant runs out. "The grant got them in the door," he adds, "so it's tremendously helpful."