On Oct. 26, 2021, MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) hosted its 12th annual Research Day, an event that recognizes the pioneering research of investigators throughout the hospital whose discoveries help to better our understanding of childhood health and disease.

This year’s theme, “Celebrating Women in Science,” focused on the unique experiences and contributions of women in the field of scientific research. The MGHfC faculty keynote address was given by Patricia K. Donahoe, MD, chief emeritus of Pediatric Surgery at MGHfC, director of the Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories at MGHfC and internationally recognized scientist in the field of developmental biology. Her talk, “Epiphanies in the Clinic and at the Bench,” highlighted discoveries made by Donahoe and her colleagues that led to groundbreaking changes in patient care, such as how purifying and cloning Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS), its receptors and related molecules may inhibit the growth of certain types of primary ovarian cancer cells. MIS is a hormone made by the gonads that causes regression of Mullerian ducts during the development of a male fetus. MIS may also act as a contraceptive agent by blocking follicle development in the ovaries when the follicles are at the primordial stage. This could potentially lead to a new approach to preserving healthy ovaries in people who undergo chemotherapy without affecting their fertility. Other studies involved finding the genetic causes of lung abnormalities, using whole genome sequencing, cell-based assays and animal models.

This year’s visiting keynote address, titled “Climate, Oceans and Human Health: What Cholera Can Teach Us About COVID-19,” was given by Rita R. Colwell, PhD, a distinguished professor and researcher at the University of Maryland at College Park and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her talk touched on how the theoretical framework used to predict cholera outbreaks in Maryland and in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Yemen can help predict outbreaks of various strains of COVID-19. She also discussed the advantages of testing wastewater for COVID-19 to predict the emergence of clusters of infection, and how genome sequencing can help identify and differentiate various environmental microbial pathogens and where they will cause clusters or epidemics of disease.

Colwell has also served as the director of the National Science Foundation, senior advisor and chairman of Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc. and founder and president of CosmosID, Inc. She is the recipient of multiple prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science in 2006, awarded by then-President George W. Bush, the Order of the Rising Sun, and the Gold and Silver Star in 2006, awarded by the Japan Society for Promotion of Science, among her other honors.

“We are very grateful to Drs. Colwell and Donahoe for joining us to keynote our annual Research Day and their inspiring keynote presentations. They are the ultimate role models for the scientists at the top of their fields doing the very highest impact research,” said Ronald Kleinman, MD, Physician-in-Chief of MGHfC. “We deeply appreciate their science and the mentorship and advice that they provided to all who participated in our annual Research Day event.”

Keynote addresses and presentations were complemented by 60 abstracts and submitted by more than 300 unique authors, including 26 trainees who submitted work as the presenting author. Faculty from various departments throughout MGHfC presented on the innovative research being done at the hospital, including Jennifer E. Cahill, RN, PhD, of the Yvonne L. Munn Center for Nursing Research at Massachusetts General Hospital; Cornelia Griggs, MD, of Pediatric Surgery; Marcy Ann Kingsbury, PhD, of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center; Maureen Leonard, MD, of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment; Anne Neilan, MD, MPH, of the Adult and Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunodeficiencies Units; Michiko Oyoshi, PhD of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center; and Sarita Patil, MD, of Allergy and Immunology at Mass General.

The day concluded with Kleinman awarding the Best Poster awards, in which three investigators received a $1,000 travel grant to an academic conference of their choice. The Best Poster award recipients included:

  • “Early life immune activation induces sex-biased mitochondrial and behavioral alterations” by Evan A. Bordt, PhD, of the Lurie Center for Autism, and team
  • “Six-Month Outcomes of Children with Acute COVID-19 and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children” by Madeleine Burns, MS, of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center, and team
  • “Race and Ethnicity-Based Bias in Bedside Nursing Notes” by Eftitan Akam, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics, and team