Konrad Hochedlinger (left) and Bradley Bernstein.
Two MGH scientists — Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD, of the Department of Pathology, and Konrad Hochedlinger, PhD, of the Center for Regenerative Medicine – are among the first group of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Early Career Scientists. Among 50 recipients of the six-year HHMI grants designed to fully fund their work, both investigators are also affiliated with the MGH Cancer Center. More than 2,000 of the nation’s top young scientists had applied for the program.
Bernstein is investigating how changes in chromatin – the combination of DNA and protein molecules that makes up chromosomes – may be involved in the development of cancer and other diseases. He and his colleagues have developed research tools that enable genome-wide chomatin analysis, including how changes in this molecular scaffolding can control when genes are turned on or off. With the HHMI support, his team will investigate how chromatin helps stem cells decide when to commit to developing into particular types of cells.
Hochedlinger works on safer and more efficient methods of genetically reprogramming cells. In recent years, he and other scientists around the world have developed ways to coax mature adult cells to regress to a state from which they can develop into nearly any kind of cell in the human body. Early methods of creating these induced pluripotent stem cells used retroviruses that could potentially lead to the development of cancer. Hochedlinger’s elegant solution was to replace the retrovirus with a harmless adenovirus, which disappears after its job is done. His team will continue examining the mechanisms allowing genetic reprogramming to further improve stem cell models of development and disease.
HHMI established the Early Career Scientist program to provide support to promising young investigators at a time when they most need the help. Some of the nation’s best early career scientists – including those working in all areas of basic biological and biomedical research and areas of chemistry, physics, computer science and engineering directly related to biology or medicine – were invited to apply.