Two research teams led by MGH investigators have received the 2012 Transformative Research Award – which supports unconventional interdisciplinary programs that have the potential to create or change fundamental scientific principles – from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Among the 20 groups nationwide awarded these five-year, multimillion-dollar grants is a team led by David Altshuler, MD, PhD, of the departments of Medicine and Molecular Biology, that will use stem cell technologies to investigate gene variants associated with several common health conditions. A team led by Emery Brown, MD, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, will investigate and develop new approaches to inducing and maintaining general anesthesia. In addition, John Higgins, MD, of the Center for Systems Biology and the Department of Pathology, is one of 51 recipients of the NIH New Innovator Award, which supports early-career investigators embarking on creative projects that may have a significant impact on human health.
Altshuler’s team, with additional leadership from Chad Cowan, PhD, of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI); Feng Zhang, PhD, Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); and Kiran Musunuru, MD, PhD, BWH and HSCI – will use advanced stem cell and gene sequencing technologies to engineer populations of muscle, liver, fat and pancreatic beta cells that have different gene variants with the goal of more precisely determining how those variations relate to the development of type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol or heart disease. Brown’s team – which includes Ken Solt, MD, MGH Anesthesia, and Matthew Wilson, PhD, and Ed Boyden, PhD,both of MIT – will use animal models to develop methods of inducing general anesthesia by directly modifying specific brain circuits, potentially leading not only to safer, more efficient anesthesia practices but also to better understanding of the brain’s arousal control and to new therapies for conditions ranging from insomnia to coma.
Higgins will use existing clinical technologies that can simultaneously measure many properties of individual cells to develop models describing the population dynamics of different types of blood cells in living animals. These models may reveal how the behavior of blood cell populations is disturbed in cancer, infection and autoimmune disorders and may suggest better ways to monitor and possibly treat those disorders. The Transformative Research and New Innovator awards are part of the NIH High Risk-High Reward program, which supports creative approaches to solving major challenges in biomedical research.
Read more articles from the 9/28/12 Hotline issue.