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Research at Mass General
Introducing our new newsletter, a spotlight on the research of Brad Bernstein, biobank helps in search for calciphylaxis research and a video introduction to the Mass General Research Institute.
Dear Mass General Research Community,
It’s been a busy first few months of 2016 for the Mass General Research Institute, and we are just getting started!
In this inaugural issue, I want to give you a brief update on some of the initiatives that we've recently launched. In the upcoming issues you will hear much more about the amazing science happening at Mass General.
Thanks to a very generous gift, we established the first Research Institute endowed chair to foster and accelerate cutting-edge innovation at Mass General.
Please congratulate Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD, of the Department of Pathology, who has been named the inaugural incumbent of the Bernard and Mildred Kayden Endowed MGH Research Institute Chair. You can read more about Brad’s work in the Researcher Spotlight article below.
Earlier this month, we introduced six new MGH Research Scholars. This year’s scholars were selected from a pool of 91 applicants and include specialists in imaging, CRISPR, cardiology, immunology and infectious disease. This program, which is funded completely through philanthropy, now provides unrestricted research support to 42 MGH investigators. Learn more about the MGH Research Scholars.
This initiative was launched in October of 2015 and represents an innovative new approach to partnering with industry. The strategic alliance initiative aims to connect the ongoing research at Mass General (the research push) to the market needs of industry (the market pull) by assembling teams of investigators to tackle a problem in medicine from a variety of angles.
To date, we have launched three programs: epigenetics, cancer immunology and neuroinflammation in neurodegeneration. These programs include 43 investigators from 12 departments and centers. We’ve collected over 70 research themes to date and will be launching additional programs over the next several months, so stay tuned!
We are continuing our efforts to share your research with both the Mass General community and with external audiences. This newsletter will be a way to share your science with the MGH community.
Be sure to check Hotline every month for Research Roundup, a column detailing the latest research news. You can follow us on Facebook, check out our Tumblr blog, and visit our Science News page for more interesting stories. Be sure to come to Research Council on May 2 to learn more about our efforts to publicize your research.
How Can You Help?
Please make sure to fill out your research portfolio and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your portfolio should explain what scientific problem you are trying to solve and how you are approaching it. Building a complete research portfolio is important for all of our initiatives.
The Research Institute will only succeed if you help us tell the world that part of the reason Mass General is #1 is because of the innovative research you do. Our research community numbers more than 8,000 people, but only together can we achieve our goals.
Until next month,Sue Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD Scientific Director, Mass General Research Institute
Brad Bernstein, MD, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Pathology at Mass General and Harvard Medical School, and a member of the Broad Institute.
His research group uses genomics to study how gene activity is controlled in stem cells and cancers.
We recently sat down with Brad to get his thoughts on being named Chair.
Research Institute: You have been selected as the first Chair established in the Mass General Research Institute. How do you feel?
Brad Bernstein: I am obviously thrilled. I am a little surprised, though, because there are so many great investigators across the hospital that could have been chosen.
Our science does bridge across departments, so it’s a good fit for the Research Institute. Although much of our work is quite fundamental, it touches on a range of disease areas with potential for clinical translation.
RI: So your research is applicable to a variety of diseases?
BB: Yes, it’s not limited to a certain disease type. We have done a lot of work with cancer, where there are good laboratory models and available clinical specimens. Cancer is accessible—a cellular model in the lab replicates quickly and the ‘epigenetic’ changes tend to be profound. Cancers are well known to harbor ‘genetic’ mutations that change gene sequence, but they also depend on epigenetic events that change gene activity.
Epigenetics research is also relevant to autoimmune and neuropsychiatric diseases. These tend to be more difficult to study than cancer, either because the models are more challenging or because the epigenetic alterations are subtle.
Sagar Nigwekar, MD, MMSc, is utilizing patient samples from the Partners Biobank to gain new insights into calciphylaxis.
This rare condition, which is caused by high levels of calcium in the blood, results in the calcification of the blood vessels that supply blood to the skin. The damaged blood vessels materialize as purple or black lesions on the patient’s skin, where the tissue has been damaged due to lack of circulation.
Calciphylaxis is rare, and most often presents in patients with kidney disease. It occurs in about 1% of patients on chronic dialysis. In individuals without kidney disease it is even more uncommon—affecting one in 100,000 people.
The condition causes painful lesions that can be debilitating or even life-threatening if they become infected. Due to the rarity of this condition, it has received minimal resources for study, and little has been understood about its causes and treatment options. Dr. Nigwekar is working to change that.
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