Research Advisory Council

Patricia and Scott Eston Massachusetts General Hospital Research Scholar, Andrea McClatchey, PhD

Focused on Unlocking the Rules to Tumor Growth

Andrea McClatchey, PhD, had always loved biology and anatomy, but it wasn’t until James Gusella, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, pulled her aside that she found a focus for her passion.

Dr. McClatchey was working as a lab technician for Dr. Gusella. He recognized her talent when she rapidly visualized complicated patterns in DNA gels. She possessed all of the characteristics of a great researcher: intelligence, curiosity, persistence, attention to detail and creativity. He asked her to think about entering a doctoral program. His support gave Dr. McClatchey the confidence to pursuepossibilities she hadn’t considered.

She did her thesis in Dr. Gusella’s lab. Twenty years later, Dr. McClatchey has her own lab, but often shares ideas with Dr. Gusella, director of the Center for Human Genetic Research. At Mass General there are many possibilities for collaboration, due to the breadth of research carried out here. Mass General has the largest hospital-based biomedical research program in the United States and attracts many of the world’s brightest medical researchers.

But researchers, both early-career scientists and established scientists venturing into new areas of investigation with creative, but unproven ideas, face many challenges in securing funding for their work. That’s why the MGH Research Scholars Program is essential. With support from the Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar Award, Dr. McClatchey can move forward with her research.

Andrea McClatchey, PhD, 2011 MGH Research Scholar

Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar,
Andrea McClatchey, PhD

“Pat and I are thrilled to be part of the launch of the MGH Research Scholars program. We believe that philanthropists have to do more to support these bright scholars — especially in this time of limited and declining government funding,” Mr. Eston says. “We hope the funding that Dr. McClatchey receives will complement support from MGH, help her explore her ideas and develop important solutions that will benefit many over the years to come.”

Using Genes to Find Connections Between Diseases

Dr. McClatchey’s mentor, Dr. Gusella, was the first to clone the NF2 gene and name its encoded protein Merlin. Mutations in NF2 cause neurofibromatosis type 2, a rare tumor syndrome that runs in families.

People with this syndrome develop benign tumors in the skull and along the spinal cord. Even with surgery, the tumors almost always return. They greatly affect a person’s quality of life and lifespan.

Through her work with mouse models, Dr. McClatchey has shown that the NF2 gene is essential to build normal tissues like the skin, liver and kidney.

But in patients with a mutation in their NF2 gene, such tissue doesn’t seem to know when to stop building — the cells continue to divide.

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For information about how you can support the Research Scholars Program, please contact the Mass General Development Office at 617-726-2200

By studying how the protein Merlin normally functions to build tissues, Dr. McClatchey and her colleagues are discovering important rules that cancer cells break while forming tumors. In mouse models, they have already found connections to liver and kidney cancer.

A Critical Time to Support the Best of the Best

Dr. McClatchey used some funding from the Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar Award to write a grant seeking support to investigate a particular type of tumor that neurofibromatosis type 2 patients develop around nerves related to hearing. Her hunch from her research is that some drugs currently being tested to treat these tumors may not be the right ones. She also plans to use the scholar award funding to pursue other creative ideas.

She remembers her reaction to winning the award — “I was teary. I was thrilled and I was humbled. I was well aware that many of my colleagues were in the pool from which I was selected — people whom I admire and respect very much.”

Competition for the awards is intense. During the program’s inaugural year, more than 115 researchers applied. Five researchers, the best of the best, including Dr. McClatchey, were named MGH Research Scholars.

“Dr. McClatchey is dedicated to solving the mysteries behind neurofibromatosis type 2. Through her research, she has opened the door to helping people with this rare tumor syndrome and she is also making discoveries that will allow scientists to better understand cancer and help even more people,” says Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, PhD, co-chair of the Mass General Research Scholars Award Committee.