Originally published in the Ellsworth American, December 8, 2017
To the residents of Ellsworth, Maine
The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) is excited to be opening a new facility in Ellsworth. Many of you have already been most welcoming and your city leaders have worked hard to make our project possible. Thanks to all of you who have been so helpful!
For those of you less familiar with our project, JAX is constructing the world’s most modern research mouse production facility in the former Lowe’s building. Based on innovation pioneered at our facilities in Bar Harbor and Sacramento, Calif., and taken to the next generation through a pilot project supported by the Maine Technology Access Fund, our new Ellsworth facility will cost nearly $200 million over five to six years and will employ approximately 350 people when we are at capacity. We have already committed and spent nearly $80 million constructing Phase 1, which will be completed early next year. We have expended additional funds to enable the Ellsworth YMCA to open its Beechland day care facility. Many Ellsworth business leaders have let us know how much our various activities over the last couple of years have improved their sales, and we couldn’t be more pleased about that.
As many of you know, JAX is a nonprofit biomedical research institute whose mission is to discover precise genomic solutions to disease and enable others in the shared quest to improve human health. Our nearly 70 faculty members conduct basic research using the mouse as a model of human disease along with translational research directly studying human tissues, DNA, cell lines, etc. to identify and test better treatments and cures for the most devastating diseases. We share what we learn through publications, talks and free public databases. And, as the world leader in developing mouse models of a wide range of human conditions, we make these models available to nearly 25,000 laboratories in up to 60 countries each year. We raise these mice in Bar Harbor, Sacramento, and soon, Ellsworth.
For people unfamiliar with mouse production, there can be some misperceptions and I’d like to put as many of these to rest as possible. First, because of the way the facility is constructed and how the mice are handled, it is virtually impossible for even one mouse to escape into the community and, in the very unlikely event that should happen, it would not be able to survive “in the wild.” In fact, the real problem for us is the wild mice that try to get into our facility, where all conditions have been made to be as friendly and attractive to mice as possible.
Second, we do not work with infectious diseases. Period. Rather, our mice are bred to reflect diseases that have a genetic component. For example, one of our many disease models stays healthy if it eats a good, low-fat diet, but becomes obese and gets Type 2 diabetes if fed a high-fat diet. Similarly, we have models of diseases like Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy, cancer and many other diseases with genetic roots.
Finally, after listening to our neighbors located near the facility, we have worked hard to minimize impacts from the facility such as light, sound and odor. The odor that sometimes comes from our facilities in Bar Harbor is actually the smell of grain being sterilized in our autoclaves (essentially large pressure cookers) — a smell similar to the smell of hops cooking at a beer brewery. In Ellsworth, we have constructed a state-of-the art collection system that should eliminate this odor except under the most adverse environmental conditions.
By the way, we are not completely new to Ellsworth. Over 300 of our employees who work in Bar Harbor are Ellsworth residents and another 500 to 600 drive through Ellsworth on their way to work each day, regularly stopping to shop, eat or fuel up. Of course, our employees who live in Bar Harbor also take advantage of Ellsworth’s great regional shopping and dining opportunities.
Bottom line: JAX will be a good neighbor and an attractive asset for Ellsworth and its residents. We will bring substantial direct and indirect economic value to the city; we will help to attract other biotech-based businesses; and, our growing Ellsworth employee base will volunteer in the many organizations that are working to make Ellsworth even more vibrant, prosperous and caring than it is today.
We are very excited about becoming a larger part of the Ellsworth community and I welcome your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chuck Hewett, Ph.D., previously served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Jackson Laboratory.