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Research at Mass General
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The aim of the Wainger Laboratory is to ask clinically relevant research questions that could lead to rapid translation and innovation for treating diseases of the motor and sensory nervous systems.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a devastating neurological disease of the motor nervous system. Within a few short years, its victims fall from good health—often in the prime of life—and ultimately perish due to progressive motor neuron deterioration. ALS is surprisingly common: people have a lifetime risk of about 1 in 400.
Prior investigation led by Brian Wainger, MD, PhD, (Wainger et al., Cell Stem Cell, 2014) has identified abnormalities in the electrical activity of motor neurons derived from ALS patients using stem cell technology. The research culminated in the discovery of the FDA-approved drug retigabine (ezogabine) as a candidate therapeutic, and this drug will now be investigated further in a clinical trial of ALS subjects.
Chronic Pain Research
Chronic pain does not have the same lethal impact as ALS; however, any sufferer of chronic pain can testify to the profound impairments in quality of life, mood and functioning that plague pain patients. Chronic pain affects over one quarter of adult Americans and is one of the most common reasons for physician visits, lost productivity and disability.
Ongoing work by Dr. Wainger has yielded a technique for deriving pain-sensing neurons from patient skin samples (Wainger et al., Nature Neuroscience, 2014, in press). This novel method may offer a way to investigate causes of pain in human patients, thus potentially overcoming the limits of animal models, which have resulted in only limited success in identifying effective treatments for human pain. The goal is to use the human pain-sensing neurons to identify and evaluate novel treatments for pain in patients.
The combination of specialized clinical and research training places Dr. Wainger in a prime position to investigate disease-related research questions and find practical and promising ways to directly advance the application of basic science research to clinical medicine.
Brian J. Wainger, MD, PhDAssistant Professor of Neurology and Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine
Dr. Wainger is Assistant Professor in Anesthesiology and Neurology at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
He studied molecular biology as an undergraduate at Princeton University, and ion channel physiology in the MD/PhD program at Columbia University.
He then completed medical residency in the Partners Neurology Program, followed by a clinical fellowship in Pain Medicine at Mass General, research fellowship with Clifford Woolf at Boston Children’s Hospital and clinical investigator training through the Harvard Master’s Program in Clinical and Translational Investigation.
Dr. Wainger's clinical expertise spans the intersection of neurology and pain medicine.
Harukho (Harry) Banno, Clinical FellowAnna-Claire Devlin, Postdoctoral FellowJulian Gal, Research AssistantDaniel Moakley, Research AssistantJoao Pereira, Postdoctoral FellowYechiam Sapir, Postdoctoral Fellow
LocationBuilding 114, Charlestown Navy Yard114 16th St., Room 2007Charlestown, MA 02129
The research laboratory of Brian Wainger, MD, PhD, is focused on understanding how the physiological properties of motor and sensory neurons may yield insight into relevant diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and painful neuropathy. We believe that such investigation is promising because abnormal neuronal excitability is a key clinical feature in both ALS and chronic pain.
Phenomena such as fasciculations (small, involuntary muscle contractions) and abnormal cortical excitability assessed by transcranial magnetic stimulation in ALS, as well as features of neuropathic pain, such as spontaneous pain and pain in response to light touch, all reflect abnormal neuronal activity.
We employ stem cell-based modeling, primary human tissue and mouse models. We use patch-clamp, extracellular multi-electrode array recording, calcium imaging as well as molecular and genetic tools to obtain insight into disease mechanisms that we can then use to translate into potential new clinical therapies.
As part of the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, we are well-suited to develop hypotheses using stem cell-derived and mouse neurons and then test the hypotheses using human neurons from post-mortem samples.
We are looking for creative, talented, successful and enthusiastic graduate students and post-doctoral scientists to join our group. To learn more about open positions in the Wainger Laboratory, please contact us by email.
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