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Research at Mass General
An industry collaboration on Ig4 disease, using web-based quizzes to map the mind and a serious video game to help in decision-making for cancer patients.
Dear Mass General Research Community,
Welcome to From the Lab Bench, an ongoing conversation about the incredible biomedical research that takes place at Massachusetts General Hospital.
In this month’s newsletter, we talk with Dr. John Stone, an MGH investigator who first encountered IgG4-related disease in one of his patients, and has since become a leading expert on the disorder. Dr. Stone has been working with the team from the new Translational and Clinical Research Center (TCRC) to set up a clinical trial for a drug to treat this rare but devastating condition.
We also have stories on two investigators who are using web and game-based technology to further their research. Laura Germine, PhD, from the Department of Psychiatry, has been using web-based quizzes for over a decade to gain new insights into how our cognitive processes work—and what she’s discovered has redefined brain science.
Nurse researcher Teresa Hagan, RN, PhD, from the Mass General Cancer Center, is developing a “serious” video game that will help female cancer patients simulate the causes and effects of the decisions they make about their care, with the goal of boosting patient empowerment.
Speaking of nurse researchers, Mass General celebrated Nursing Recognition Week earlier this month, and I had the honor of attending Nursing Research Day and announcing that the Research Institute will fund two nursing fellowships in 2017. See more nursing research stories here.
In closing, a quick reminder to fill out your research outline so we can continue to build our research portfolio. If we know what you are working on—and the methods you are using—we can do a better job of connecting you with collaborators, members of industry and donors.
Remember, the Research Institute will only succeed if you help us tell the world about the innovative research you do.
Until next month,
John Stone, MD, MPH, is recognized as the world’s leading clinical investigator in IgG4-related disease (IgG4-RD), a multi-organ immune-mediated condition that can cause inflammation and fibrosis (the formation of excessive connective tissue) in various organs and tissues throughout the body
Research Institute (RI): What problem are you trying to solve?
John Stone (JS): I am currently working on IgG4-related disease (IgG4-RD), a condition I recognized only about eight years ago in one of the very first patients I evaluated at Mass General. Since then, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, the work has been a virtually continuous series of “Eureka" moments and exciting collaborations both within Mass General, and among a growing network of colleagues abroad.
We have identified new clinical features of this condition; made great strides in unraveling its immunology; discovered a novel T lymphocyte that appears critical as a driver of the disease; and—most importantly—found therapies that really seem to be effective. In fact, over a very short period of time, Mass General has become the center for research on this disease. Most remarkably, perhaps, the entire program began because of a single patient interaction.
We are currently conducting an important single-center clinical trial that I believe will lead to an innovative treatment approach for multiple immune-mediated (“autoimmune”) diseases. The trial started after a pharmaceutical company, Xencor, read about the work we had published and realized their drug might be highly effective in IgG4-RD. Our initial results—both in the laboratory and in the clinic with this new therapy—have been striking.
As a rheumatologist, it is immensely gratifying to control an immune-mediated process without having to use steroids.
RI: Did you have institutional support from Mass General in setting up your trial?
JS: Yes, the staff of the new Translational and Clinical Research Center (TCRC) is terrific. From the very start, they have joined us on teleconferences with Xencor. They have been present at meetings, helped develop a budget for the trial and also helped with the IRB approval.
We’ve all seen those quizzes on the web and in our social media feeds: Which 90s TV star are you? What character would you be in the Harry Potter universe?
Normally, we view them as a fun and inconsequential distraction, a way to pass the time while waiting in line at the store or unwinding at the end of the day.
It turns out, however, that web-based quizzes can actually be a powerful research tool.
While they may not be able to tell you what celebrity you resemble or what your spirit animal would be, a team of researchers led by Mass General's Laura Germine, PhD, has been using web-based testing for more than a decade to gain valuable scientific insights into the mysteries of human cognition.
READ MORE To learn more about how your brain works, visit Germine's site, TestMyBrain.org.
Teresa Hagan, RN, PhD, is in the process of developing a “serious” video game – a game that depicts real-life decisions and their consequences – as a tool for boosting patient engagement and empowerment in women’s cancer care.
“Gaming for health is a new field that holds great promise for educating individuals and changing behaviors,” says Hagan. “Unlike typical patient education materials, serious games engage users in situations that they are likely to face in their own life.
They see a context similar to their own, but the structure of the game keeps the learning goals attainable. It can bring the lofty down to the realistic and teaches through experience, rather than through words.”
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