Overview & History

The research program at Massachusetts General Hospital is built upon a proud tradition of medical innovation.

Ether Day

Mass General physicians were the first to demonstrate the use of ether as a general anesthetic during surgery.

With more than $786 million in sponsored projects annually, Massachusetts General Hospital is the largest independent hospital to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the 12th largest institution in NIH funding overall.

Mass General is the largest and oldest teaching partner of Harvard University Medical School.

A History of Innovation

The history of Mass General is one of doctors and scientists working together for a common goal: to provide better diagnostics, therapeutics and devices for patient care. 

In 1846, Mass General surgeons made medical history by conducting the first public demonstration of surgery using a general anesthetic, ether.

Mass General was also the first hospital in the United States to generate an X-ray for medical diagnosis in 1896, the first to start a tumor clinic for the study of cancer in 1925 and the first to reattach a severed human limb in 1962.

Our researchers perfected the use of the Pap smear as a tool to diagnose cervical cancer in 1946, partnered with doctors and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Shriners Burn Institute to create the first artificial skin from living cells in 1981 and discovered the first gene associated with inherited, early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 1987. 

Charlestown Navy Yard

The Charlestown Navy Yard has over 500,000 square feet of research space.

Expanding to the Present

The research enterprise at Mass General has grown by a remarkable 394% over the past 20 years.

Research now represents a quarter of the hospital’s operating budget, and the research enterprise covers more than 1 million square feet of space in Boston and surrounding areas, including the Charlestown Navy Yard (right).

The research community consists of more than 12,000 doctors, scientists, assistants and support staff.  

Our research teams have continued to make significant advancements in medical science and technology during this period of considerable growth.

Recent research achievements include:

  • Indentifying and cloning one of the first genes known to control aging in animals (1996)
  • Identifying genetic markers in breast cancer tissue that indicate whether the tumors are likely to be successfully treated by tamoxifen (2004)
  • Discovering a method for isolating tumor cells from blood using nanotechnology (2008)
  • Demonstrating success in transplanting organs without immunosuppressant drugs by simultaneously transplanting the donor’s bone marrow (2008)
  • Developing a single-cell, genetically engineered living laser which might someday activate drugs waiting in the body, or serve as a new type of imaging tool (2011)

View an interactive graphic of Mass General research milestones.

Richard B. Simches Research Center

The Richard B. Simches Research Center is home to five multidisciplinary thematic centers.

On to the Future

What does the future hold for research at Mass General?

Our researchers will continue to pursue innovative collaborations with other institutions, foundations and business partners to take advantage of shared knowledge and resources.

We will also work to streamline processes so that researchers can spend more time at the bench and less time on administrative duties.

We will develop new sources of funding—like our Research Scholars program—to support researchers who are taking unconventional paths to discovery.  

Most importantly, we will continue to push the boundaries of medicine and science to find better diagnostics, treatments and devices for our patients.