Gary Tearney, MD, PhD working in his lab

Gary Tearney, MD, PhD, says that being named a Research Scholar in 2012 was "hugely influential" in his research career at Mass General.

Research Scholars Program Helps to Fund New Imaging Research

In 2012, Guillermo (Gary) Tearney, MD, PhD, was one of eight scientists named to the Research Scholars Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Then in its second year, the Research Scholars Program was created to give researchers a source of funding they could use to pursue innovative avenues of research that were too new or unproven to find support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or other federal funding programs.

Supported by donations from philanthropy, the program provides investigators with $100,000 per year for five years. Dr. Tearney was named the Mike and Sue Hazard Family Research Scholar. The Hazards donated the funding to support Dr. Tearney’s five-year award.

Dr. Tearney says that being named a Research Scholar marked a major turning point in his research career, which is focused on the development of innovative, non-invasive imaging technologies that can be used for disease diagnosis and therapeutic exploration.

“It’s been hugely influential in my life. The first thing is it exposed the hospital to my research. That was really significant, and it came at a significant time. I was able to reach out and tell the hospital more about what I was doing and have a larger audience for the kind of work that I do.”

Being part of the Scholars Program also put Dr. Tearney in contact with other members of the philanthropic and business community. These relationships have provided him with more opportunities to raise funds to support his research, he says.

Building an Implantable Microscope

Dr. Tearney has used part of his scholar funding to develop a prototype of an implantable microscope that could one day provide real-time images from inside the body via a wireless transmitter.

The implantable microscope is fully self-contained, battery-powered and wireless. In its current formulation, it is able to render images of glass beads at a resolution of 10 microns (there are 25,400 microns in one inch).

“The idea is to shrink this device down and implant it in the body so it can continuously transmit images to a remote computer drive," Dr. Tearney says. The transmitted images will allow physicians to see if cancer is developing, if a heart attack is imminent or if a transplanted organ is on the verge of being rejected. "There are so many applications for implantable microscopy in the body.”

Now that the prototype has been built, Dr. Tearney’s team will start testing it in lab models while continuing to explore ways to make the device smaller and refine its imaging capabilities.

Scholars Program Continues to Grow

This past April at Mass General’s annual Scientific Advisory Council meeting, eight new scholars were added to the Research Scholars Program as part of the class of 2014.

This brings the total number of scientists supported by the program to 28 since it started in 2011.

The additional funds have helped scholars pursue new avenues of research, embark on new collaborations, recruit more staff members and secure additional grant funding.