Friday, April 2, 2010

Martin Research Award honorees



STUDIES REVEALING NETWORKS underlying key aspects of the immune system and describing a novel application of an antiangiogenesis drug were recognized with the second annual Joseph B. Martin Research Awards at the Feb. 24 Celebration of Science, held in conjunction with the Scientific Advisory Committee meeting. Established in honor of Joseph Martin, MD, PhD, former dean of Harvard Medical School and previously chief of the MGH Neurology Service, the awards honor the best MGH basic and clinical research papers published the preceding year. Funded by the Massachusetts Biomedical Research Council, the Martin Awards provide $100,000 plus indirect costs to support continuation of the honored research.

The basic research award went to a team led by Nir Hacohen, PhD, of the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases, for their study of molecular circuits of the dendritic cells of the immune system, published in the Oct. 9 issue of Science. In collaboration with colleagues from the Broad Institute – led by Aviv Regev, PhD – the researchers developed a system that allowed them to identify networks of genes and proteins regulating how dendritic cells sense the presence of pathogens, distinguish viruses from bacteria and direct other immune cells to mount the appropriate response.

At the Feb. 24 event, Hacohen discussed how the award-winning study identified a key regulator of the antiviral protein interferon beta 1 and described subsequent investigation of the pathways involved when the H1N1 influenza virus infects human cells. "Receiving the award was a wonderful validation and support of a long-term research effort in my laboratory," he says. "We hope to use the funding to translate this work into treatments for immune disorders." MGH co-authors of the Science paper were Ido Amit, PhD; Nicholas Chevier; Thomas Eisenhaure; Weibo Li; Alon Goren, PhD; Raquel Deering; Rebecca McDonald; and Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD.

A paper in the July 23 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) received the clinical research award for a team led by Scott Plotkin, MD, PhD, of the MGH Cancer Center, and Emmanuelle di Tomaso, PhD, formerly of the Edwin Steele Laboratory in the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology. In a first-of-its-kind trial, the researchers showed that the drug bevacizumab (Avastin) was able to reverse hearing loss caused by benign tumors that grow on the hearing and balance nerves of patients with the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), preventing deafness in some of the 10 treated patients.

Plotkin described how the improved hearing seen in that pilot study has persisted for as long as two years and how larger, multicenter trials of the approach -- the first successful NF2 treatment not involving surgery or radiation -- are in the works. MGH co-authors of the NEJM study were Anat Stemmer-Rachamimov, MD; Fred Barker, MD; Timothy Padera, PhD; Alex Tyrrell, PhD; Rakesh Jain, PhD; and Gregory Sorensen, MD.

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