Exterior of the Pharmacy building on UNE's Portland Campus

UNE establishes biotechnology research lab on Portland Campus for the Health Sciences

The laboratory that will help establish UNE as a biomedical research powerhouse for the state of Maine

The University of New England is excited to announce the launch of the Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences, a pioneering addition to the University’s growing academic and research landscape.

The laboratory, located on UNE’s newly renamed Portland Campus for the Health Sciences, occupies two levels of the School of Pharmacy building at the heart of the University’s campus on Stevens Avenue.

Gwen Mahon, UNE’s provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said establishment of the Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences aligns with UNE’s strategic priority to make the University a bastion of research innovation for the state of Maine.

“This world-class laboratory reinforces our dedication to fostering collaborative, interdisciplinary research initiatives that address local and global needs, all while amplifying our efforts to engage students in focused research and scholarship,” Mahon said. “Maine’s biotechnology sector is growing. That growth, coupled with recent federal investments in biotechnology, creates an ideal environment for UNE to meaningfully contribute.”

Karen Houseknecht and a student examine research data at a computer screen

Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D., examines lab data with a student in the new Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences.

According to Mahon, the new laboratory will bolster UNE’s expertise in biotechnology and health sciences research while also creating opportunities for strategic research partnerships and contributing to workforce development in this dynamic field.

UNE is part of Maine’s growing bioscience and biotechnology ecosystem.

In 2022, UNE researcher Eva Balog, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, became one of four co-investigators on a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop protein sensors for supporting quality control in biomanufacturing and biotechnology.

In July, the University hosted the BIO-SENS Symposium — which brought together the grant’s lead investigators, as well researchers from the four partner institutions and leaders in New England’s biotechnology and biomanufacturing sectors — to discuss advancements in the research and highlight the work of students in developing innovative products that have the potential to save time and money — and lives.

Eva Balog poses for a portrait in her lab

Eva Balog, Ph.D.

Karen Houseknecht and a student examine data on a computer screen in the new Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences
Eva Balog and a student pose for a photo while doing research in the new Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences
An iPad displays scientific data onscreen
A student holds an iPad and poses in the Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences
Deb Barlow works with a student in the Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences

Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D., associate provost for Research and Scholarship and professor of pharmacology, will serve as the laboratory’s inaugural director.

A Fulbright scholar, Houseknecht has extensive leadership experience in academic, pharmaceutical, and contract research environments. In the new lab, she will direct research operations and conduct her own research focusing on novel therapeutic discovery and mechanistic pharmacology. Houseknecht has 14 years of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health and current involvement in two federal R01 awards.

Portrait of Karen Houseknecht

Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D.

“I am thrilled to lead efforts to launch a collaborative research laboratory focused on biotechnology and biomedical research, with the goal of increasing innovative research and research training opportunities for our students,” Houseknecht said.

“The Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences will also provide new avenues for building strategic research and training collaborations with external partners,” she added.

Alongside Houseknecht, leadership for the new lab includes Deborah Barlow, B.S., as technical manager and Zeynep Arslan as administrative manager, both of whom bring their expertise and guidance to ensure the new laboratory’s success. 

Balog will join Houseknecht as an inaugural member of the lab, where she will lead biosensor development and research for Maine’s biotechnology industry. Sri Mohan, Ph.D., professor in the School of Pharmacy, will use the space to continue his research on biomarker development for cancer therapeutics.

Students and additional research faculty will also benefit from the lab’s state-of-the-art equipment, central location, and interprofessional learning opportunities.

“I look forward to the continued growth of research on the Portland Campus for the Health Sciences,” Mahon said. “Together, we are shaping a brighter, healthier, and more innovative future.”

About the University of New England

The University of New England is Maine’s largest private university, with two beautiful coastal campuses in Maine, a one-of-a-kind study abroad campus in Tangier, Morocco, and an array of flexible, accredited online degrees. In an uncommonly welcoming and supportive community, we offer hands-on learning, empowering students to make a positive impact in a world full of challenges. The state’s top provider of health professionals, we are home to Maine’s only medical collegeMaine’s only dental college, a variety of other interprofessionally aligned health care degree programs, as well as nationally recognized programs for marine science degreesnatural and social sciences degreesarts and humanities degrees, and business degrees.