BIDDEFORD – When words like biomedical research and neuroscience are tossed around, entrepreneurship and business marketing are probably not the first things to come to mind.

Seven students who completed a summer internship program Wednesday may beg to differ.

The 11-week program, developed by Ed Bilsky, professor of pharmacology in the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, offered lectures on research at the Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences, presentations by Maine-based businesses and hands-on laboratory experience.

In the program, two high school students and five college students, originally from Maine, were mentored by students and got experience at local businesses and labs.

“You can have the greatest discovery in the world, but if it doesn’t translate back up into something … it’s a disservice to that technology,” Bilsky said.

The program culminated Wednesday with students’ presentations of what they have learned.

“The business aspect was the most unique part for me,” said Danielle Rafferty. “I really had no idea biotech research was being done here (in Maine).”

Rafferty, a 2010 graduate of Kennebunk High School, is studying bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

As part of the internship, she worked with Sea Run Holdings. The Freeport-based company transitioned from farming salmon to developing innovative biologics and therapeutics from the blood of farmed salmon.

Rafferty’s mother, Norma Nardone, a biology teacher at Kennebunk High, said she is impressed with what her daughter has learned.

“It really opened up her eyes,” Nardone said.

The program emphasized the kind of innovative thinking that changed the course of Sea Run Holdings’ business, just as it did for Dr. Lee Thibodeau.

Thibodeau, a neurosurgeon in Portland, along with his brother Donnie Thibodeau, a potato farmer in Fryeburg, former U.S. ski coach Bob Harkins and former brewer and brewery consultant Chris Dowe, co-founded Maine Distilleries LLC, known for its potato-made Cold River Vodka.

On Wednesday, he told the students that the vodka was born in part because of a slump in the potato industry due to the Atkins diet fad. He encouraged the students to be innovative, continue research and consider entrepreneurial business opportunities.

“This state has a big future, and bringing technology into this state is the way to do it,” as is adding small businesses and startup companies, Thibodeau said. 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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