JUNE 2016

Study finds patient navigators improve comprehensive cancer screening rates

A clinical trial conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital investigators has found that the use of patient navigators may improve comprehensive cancer screening rates among patient populations not likely to receive recommended screenings.

New procedure allows long-term culturing of adult stem cells

A new procedure developed at Massachusetts General Hospital may revolutionize the culturing of adult stem cells and allow their generation from cells collected in some routine clinical procedures.

Potential therapy target could reduce dangerous post-heart-attack inflammation

A new study led by Massachusetts General Hospital investigators has identified a mechanism behind the surge in cardiovascular inflammation that takes place after a heart attack and describes a potential strategy for suppressing inflammation within atherosclerotic plaques.

Faulty assumptions lie behind the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities in behavioral health care

Racial and ethnic disparities in the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders may result from key faulty assumptions about the best ways of addressing the needs of minority patients. Those assumptions are detailed, along with recommendations for potential improvement strategies, in an article in the June issue of Health Affairs.

Shackleton expedition surgeons completed hazardous procedure 100 years ago

In a paper entitled “Of Penguins, Pinnipeds, and Poisons,” published online in the journal Anesthesiology, Paul Firth, MBChB, of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, describes how surgeons Alexander Macklin and James McIlroy treated crew members for the problems and injuries inflicted by the extreme environment, including a June 15, 1916, surgical operation that posed hazards—some that were then unknown—to both the patient and the surgical team.

Nanoprobe enables measurement of protein dynamics in living cells

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Rowland Institute at Harvard University have used a specialized nanoprobe developed by the Harvard/Rowland investigators to directly measure levels of key proteins within living, cultured cells.

Study reveals impact of antibiotic treatment, other factors on the infant gut microbiome

A comprehensive analysis of changes in the intestinal microbial population during the first three years of life has revealed some of the impacts of factors such as mode of birth – vaginal versus cesarean section – and antibiotic exposure, including the effects of multiple antibiotic treatments.

Study reveals how interactions between neural networks change during working memory

How does the cross-talk between brain networks change when working memory—the mental assembly of information needed to carry out a particular task—is engaged? Investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital have found that dopamine signaling within the cerebral cortex can predict changes in the extent of communication between key brain networks during working memory.

Use of neighborhood environment can help overweight adolescents increase physical activity

A program encouraging overweight or obese adolescents to increase their physical activity through use of their everyday environment, rather than organized classes or sports programs, produced significant increases in participants’ daily physical activity that were sustained for at least three to four months. A report on a pilot study conducted at the Mass General Health Center in Revere is being published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

MAY 2016

New UN treatment targets for HIV/AIDS would be "expensive but worth every penny"

A new study finds that implementing the United Nations targets for HIV testing and treatment would be an expensive but ultimately very cost-effective way to increase survival, reduce the number of children orphaned by HIV, and contain the global AIDS epidemic. That is the conclusion of researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the University of Cape Town and the Yale School of Public Health, who estimated the likely impact of the so-called “90-90-90” program.

Antiretroviral therapy may not be enough to reduce HIV-associated arterial inflammation

A Massachusetts General Hospital-based study finds that initiating antiretroviral therapy soon after diagnosis of an HIV infection did not prevent the progression of significant arterial inflammation in a small group of previously untreated patients.

Human amyloid-beta acts as natural antibiotic in the brains of animal models

A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital investigators provides additional evidence that amyloid-beta protein – which is deposited in the form of beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease – is a normal part of the innate immune system, the body’s first-line defense against infection.

Pilot study shows that use of video decision aids increases advance care planning

A program encouraging physicians and other providers to discuss with patients their preferences regarding end-of-life care significantly increased the documented incidence of such conversations and the number of patients with late-stage disease who were discharged to hospice.

Ragon Institute study identifies unexpected mutation in commonly used research mice

A strain of inbred mice commonly used for the creation of so-called knockout animals has been found to carry a previously undetected mutation that could affect the results of immune system research studies.

First genitourinary vascularized composite allograft (penile) transplant in the nation performed at Massachusetts General Hospital

A team of surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), led by Curtis L. Cetrulo, Jr., MD, and Dicken S.C. Ko, MD, announced today that they have performed the nation’s first genitourinary reconstructive (penile) transplant. The 15-hour operation, which took place earlier this month, involved surgically grafting the complex microscopic vascular and neural structures of a donor organ onto the comparable structures of the recipient.

Called a genitourinary vascularized composite allograft (GUVCA) transplant, this month’s landmark procedure represents the culmination of more than 3½ years of research and collaboration across multiple departments and divisions within the MGH – including Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Urology, Psychiatry, Infectious Disease, Nursing, and Social Work – all of which are part of the MGH Transplant Center.

MassGeneral Hospital for Children named supporter of Microbiome Initiative announced by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

In a major push by President Obama’s administration to advance the understanding of the microbiome – the population of microorganisms that lives within and around the human body – and enable the protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function, MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) is being recognized as a collaborative partner with Mead Johnson Nutrition (MJN) in the National Microbiome Initiative.

Mass General study identifies potential treatment target for pancreatic cancer

Investigators have identified the first potential molecular treatment target for the most common form of pancreatic cancer, which kills more than 90 percent of patients.

Intravenous ketamine may rapidly reduce suicidal thinking in depressed patients

Repeat intravenous treatment with low doses of the anesthetic drug ketamine quickly reduced suicidal thoughts in a small group of patients with treatment-resistant depression.

New material temporarily tightens skin

Scientists at MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, Living Proof, and Olivo Labs have developed a new material that can temporarily protect and tighten skin, and smooth wrinkles.

Deciphering chromatin: Many marks, millions of histories at a time

A new high-resolution technique for reading combinations of chemical flags in the epigenome could help uncover new rules underlying cell fate and provide important clues for understanding diseases like cancer. The technique was developed by the Bernstein Lab of the Broad Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital. Brad, Bernstein, MD, PhD, is the inaugural Bernard and Mildred Kayden Endowed MGH Research Institute Chair.

Mass General-developed device may provide rapid diagnosis of bacterial infections

A team of investigators has developed a device with the potential of shortening the time required to rapidly diagnose pathogens responsible for health-care-associated infections from a couple of days to a matter of hours.

New method could offer more precise treatment for corneal disease

Massachusetts General Hospital researchers have developed a new light-based technique that selectively stiffens tissue in the cornea and might one day offer improved treatment for eye problems caused by weakened corneal tissue.

Sparing livers

Recently developed treatments that cure hepatitis C virus will create new opportunities for people with other liver diseases to receive transplanted livers.

APRIL 2016

What our gut tells us about the 'hygiene hypothesis'

A study led by Mass General investigator Ramnik Xavier, MD, PhD, has found evidence that supports the hypothesis that early-life exposure to pathogens is beneficial to the development of the immune system and identifies interactions between bacterial species that may explain the increase in autoimmune and related disorders seen in western societies.

Metastasis-promoting circulating tumor cell clusters can pass through capillary-sized vessels

Massachusetts General Hospital investigators have found that circulating tumor cell (CTC) clusters – which are more efficient in spreading cancer throughout the body than are single CTCs – can pass through capillary-sized blood vessels. Their findings suggest potential strategies to reduce clusters’ metastatic potential.

Allergen immunotherapy found to pose no risk of infection

A team of Massachusetts General Hospital investigators has found no evidence that allergen immunotherapy carries a risk of infection. Although the sterility of these “allergy shots” has not been a concern, the organization that sets standards for the quality and safety of medications has proposed new guidelines that place them in the same category as preparations intended for intravenous or spinal administration.

Study estimates number of births and terminations with Down syndrome in Massachusetts

A multi-institutional research team has estimated for the first time the number of children born with Down syndrome each year in Massachusetts over the past century, along with the numbers of pregnancies of a child with Down syndrome lost to either termination or miscarriage.

Gene variant explains racial disparities in risk of severe adverse reaction to urate-lowering drug

A study led by a Massachusetts General Hospital investigator finds significant racial disparities in the risk that patients being treated with the most commonly prescribed medication for gout will develop a serious, sometimes life-threatening adverse reaction, a risk that closely correlates with the frequency of a gene variant previously associated with that reaction.

REPRIEVE, Largest HIV-related Cardiovascular Disease Clinical Trial Ever, Enrolls More than 1,000 Participants

One year ago, the National Institutes of Health launched REPRIEVE – The Randomized Trial to Prevent Vascular Events in HIV study, designed to investigate whether statin use can prevent cardiovascular disease in people living with HIV. To date, the trial has enrolled nearly 1,200 participants across approximately 85 trial sites.

Microphages surrounding lymph nodes block the progression of melanoma, other cancers

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a type of immune cell that appears to block the progress of melanoma and other cancers in lab models.

Angiogenesis factor found to promote three age-related diseases of the eye

A Massachusetts General Hospital investigator has found that increased expression of the angiogenic factor VEGF-A promotes three common aging-related eye conditions – both versions of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and also cataracts – in a laboratory  model.

Detailed analysis of autism-associated genes finds involvement in key pathways and processes

A group of Massachusetts General Hospital investigators has identified key underlying biological processes that involve some of the hundreds of genes known to contribute to the risk of autism spectrum disorders.

Targeting two angiogenesis pathways could improve results of glioblastoma treatment

Two companion papers from Massachusetts General Hospital research teams suggest that targeting multiple angiogenesis pathways simultaneously could help overcome the resistance to anti-angiogenic treatment inevitably developed by the devastating brain tumor glioblastoma.

Report reviews 10 years of shared decision making at Massachusetts General Hospital

The health care system has come a long way from the "doctor knows best" approach of decades ago, and the importance of involving patients in decisions about their medical care – particularly in situations when there is more than one treatment option – is broadly acknowledged.

Single gene mutations account for only 2 percent of cases of severely elevated cholesterol

A study from an international research team finds that familial hypercholesterolemia – a genetic condition that causes greatly elevated levels of LDL cholesterol throughout life – accounts for less than 2 percent of severely elevated LDL in the general population but also increases the risk of coronary artery disease significantly more than does elevated LDL alone.

MARCH 2016

Study finds brain's response to social exclusion is different in young marijuana users

A study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers finds that the brains of young adult marijuana users react differently to social exclusion than do those of non-users.

Mass General now offering less-invasive procedure for treatment of carotid artery

Physicians in the Fireman Vascular Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) are now offering a new and less invasive method of treatment for carotid artery disease known as transcarotid artery revascularization, or TCAR.

Smoking cessation benefits persist in spite of weight gain in patients with mental illness

The weight gain that can result from quitting smoking does not eliminate the reduction in cardiovascular risks associated with smoking cessation among patients with serious mental illness, at least not during the first year.

Kathiresan named director of Center for Human Genetic Research

Sekar (“Sek”) Kathiresan, MD, has been selected to become the next Director of the Center for Human Genetic Research (CHGR) at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Kathiresan follows Dr. James Gusella, the founding director of CHGR, who established and built it into a world-class research center over the past decade.

Simple mechanism may have allowed primitive cells to maintain internal conditions

A Massachusetts General Hospital research team investigating how the earliest stages of life might have developed has discovered a way the first living cells could have met a key challenge – maintaining a constant internal environment, a process called homeostasis, even when external conditions change

Functional heart muscle regenerated in decellularized human hearts

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have taken some initial steps toward the creation of bioengineered human hearts using donor hearts stripped of components that would generate an immune response and cardiac muscle cells generated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which could come from a potential recipient.

Combining two imaging technologies may better identify dangerous coronary plaques

Combining optical coherence tomography (OCT) with another advanced imaging technology may more accurately identify coronary artery plaques that are most likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.

Mass General research team identifies key step in process of Shingella infection

Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Division of Infectious Diseases are investigating the mechanism by which several important pathogenic species of bacteria deliver proteins into the cells of the organisms they are infecting.

MGHfC study finds that positive attitudes prevail within families of people with Down syndrome

A study from a research team led by a MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) physician finds that, within most families, the experience of having a member with Down syndrome is generally a positive one.

Regular aspirin use found to protect against overall cancer risk

Recent news about scientific and medical research from the Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute. 

How diet influences colon cancer

Over the past decade, studies have found that obesity and eating a high-fat, high-calorie diet are significant risk factors for many types of cancer. Now, a new study from MIT and Mass General reveals how a high-fat diet makes the cells of the intestinal lining more likely to become cancerous.


The body's response to low levels of oxygen may treat mitochondrial disease, study finds

A team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has found that the controlled induction of the hypoxia response, the body’s reaction to a reduced level of oxygen in the bloodstream, may relieve the symptoms of one of the most challenging groups of genetic disorders – mitochondrial diseases.

Bariatric surgery may reduce life-threatening heart failure exacerbation in obese patients

A new study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators finds that heart failure patients who underwent bariatric surgery to treat morbid obesity had a significant reduction in the risk of heart failure exacerbation – a dangerous, sudden worsening of symptoms – in the two years following surgery.

MassGeneral Hospital for Children review articles examine childhood obesity risk factors

As the rate of obesity in the U.S. population has risen dramatically, more and more children are becoming overweight at younger and younger ages. Understanding the factors that contribute to childhood obesity and identifying ways to prevent its development are critical to stemming the historically high prevalence of childhood obesity and of associated health problems like type 2 diabetes.

Researchers find link between death of tumor-support cells and cancer metastasis

Researchers have discovered that eliminating cells thought to aid tumor growth did not slow or halt the growth of cancer tumors.

Survey examines Americans' use of and satisfaction with homeopathic medicines

A new survey finds that homeopathic medicines are primarily used by a small segment of the U.S. population for common, self-limited conditions such as the common cold or back pain.

Stenting as effective as carotid endarterectomy for preventing strokes in asymptomatic patients

The most modern clinical trial to compare the use of carotid-artery stenting with carotid endarterectomy for the prevention of strokes in asymptomatic patients with serious narrowing of the carotid artery finds no significant differences in outcomes between the two procedures over a period of up to five years.

Some chemotherapy drugs may increase the response to immune checkpoint therapy

The use of certain traditional chemotherapy drugs may expand the number of tumors that respond to one of today’s most promising cancer therapies – immune checkpoint blockade.

Combination drug targeting opioid system may help relieve treatment-resistant depression

A clinical trial of an experimental drug for treatment-resistant major depression finds that modulation of the endogenous opioid system may improve the effectiveness of drugs that target the action of serotonin and related monoamine neurotransmitters.

Study finds mechanism by which obesity promotes pancreatic and breast cancer

Massachusetts General Hospital investigators may have uncovered a novel mechanism behind the ability of obesity to promote cancer progression.

Oral microbiome drug containing bacterial spores may be effective treatment for recurrent C. diff

Results from a Phase 1b/2 trial suggest that an investigational microbiome-based, oral therapeutic drug is effective for the treatment of recurrent C. difficile infection.

Single-lesion biopsy may be insufficient to identify resistance mutations for targeted therapy

When metastatic tumors driven by drug-targetable genetic mutations become resistant to a targeted therapy drug, the usual practice is to biopsy a single metastatic lesion to test for new mutations that can guide the selection of next-line therapies. Investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center and the University of Torino in Italy have found that this strategy may miss additional targetable mutations that arise in different metastases.

A new technique to model certain copy-number variants (CNVs) using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene

A new technique to model certain copy-number variants (CNVs) in the genome, using the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system, could facilitate the study of genomic disorders and opening a potential new approach to targeted treatments for those disorders.

Patients with high-risk macular degeneration show improvement with high-dose statin treatment

Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School and the University of Crete have conducted a phase I/II clinical trial investigating the efficacy of statins (cholesterol-lowering medications) for the treatment of patients with the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — the leading cause of blindness in the developed world.


Mass General study points to the first topical treatment for benign skin legions

An investigation into the molecular mechanisms responsible for the most common type of benign skin lesion may lead to the first nonsurgical treatment for the growths called seborrheic keratoses, which in addition to being cosmetically unattractive are often worrisome to patients.

Proton therapy controls common pediatric brain tumor with fewer side effects

The use of proton radiotherapy to treat the most common malignant brain tumor in children is as effective as standard photon (x-ray) radiation therapy while causing fewer long-term side effects such as hearing loss and cognitive disorders, according to a study receiving online publication in Lancet Oncology.

Nanoparticles combine photodynamic and molecular therapies against pancreatic cancer

A nanoparticle drug-delivery system that combines two complementary types of anticancer treatment could improve outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer and other highly treatment-resistant tumors while decreasing toxicity.

Study finds how diabetes drug metformin inhibits progression of pancreatic cancer

Mass General investigators may have uncovered a novel mechanism behind the ability of the diabetes drug metformin to inhibit the progression of pancreatic cancer.

Early weight loss in Parkson disease may signify a more serious form of the disease

A study led by a Mass General researcher finds evidence of an association between weight loss in patients with early Parkinson disease and more rapid disease progression.

High-fidelity CRISPR-Cas9 nuceleases have no detectable off-target mutations

A new engineered version of the gene-editing CRISPR-Cas9 nuclease appears to robustly abolish the unwanted, off-target DNA breaks that are a significant current limitation of the technology, reducing them to undetectable levels. In their report receiving advance online publication in Nature, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers describe how altering the Cas9 enzyme to reduce non-specific interactions with the target DNA may greatly expand applications of the gene-editing technology.

Study finds no increased risk of autism, ADHD with prenatal antidepressant disorder

An analysis of medical records data from three Massachusetts health care systems finds no evidence that prenatal exposure to antidepressants increases the risk for autism and related disorders or for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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