Friday, April 22, 2016

SAC meeting examines, celebrates thematic research centers

THE SPIRIT OF SCIENCE: Center for Systems Biology investigator Edmund Keliher, PhD, (center)

discusses his research at the annual Celebration of Science poster ses-sion.

The 69th meeting of the MGH Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), on April 6 and 7, focused on the hospital’s five thematic research centers. While some centers have been around for more than a decade, the event’s title “The Thematic Centers at 10: Entering Adolescence,” reflected both occasional growing pains and the promising potential of the centers. The annual poster session led off the first day’s Celebration of Science, featuring 175 research posters, 12 of which were named posters of distinction. The afternoon session featured the announcement of this year’s MGH research scholars (see sidebar below) and presentations by the winners of the hospital’s top research awards:

Filip Swirski, PhD, Department of Radiology and Center for Systems Biology, received the Martin Prize for Fundamental Research for his Science paper on the role of the immune factor IL-3 in the dangerous immune response called sepsis.

Andrew Chan, MD, Gastrointestinal Unit, Department of Medicine, received the Martin Prize for Clinical Research for his JAMA paper on gene variants that determine the ability of aspirin and NSAID use to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Robert Anthony, PhD, Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, Department of Medicine, received the Howard Goodman Award for his investigations into the role of a molecular process called glycosylation in determining antibody function.


2016 MGH Research Scholars

Now in its sixth year, the MGH Research Scholars program was founded to support promising young investigators pursuing innovative approaches to challenges in medical science. The program is funded by philanthropic support and provides five years of unrestricted funding.

Caroline Burns, PhD, Cardiovascular Research Center, Department of Medicine

Jacob Hooker, PhD, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology

J. Keith Joung, MD, PhD, Center for Computational and Integrative Biology, Department of Pathology

Cammie Lesser, MD, PhD, Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine

Filip Swirski, PhD, Center for Systems Biology, Department of Radiology

Seok-Hyun (Andy) Yun, PhD, Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Department of Dermatology

The keynote address was given by SAC chair Daniel Podolsky, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Previously chief of the MGH Gastrointestinal Unit and chief academic officer at Partners, Podolsky was involved in the planning efforts that led to the establishment of thematic centers in the Simches Building when it opened in 2004. He discussed how the MGH used the availability of new research space to rethink how science was organized and create opportunities not confined by the boundaries of traditional academic departments.

Executive Committee on Research chair David Louis, MD, chief of Pathology, described results of a survey on the thematic centers taken earlier this year. Investigators within the centers responded positively regarding the centers’ culture and opportunities for collaboration, and although a significant percentage of non-center-based researchers were not aware that the centers existed, those who did generally regarded them as valuable assets. Among the conclusions of the survey were needs to increase awareness of the centers and the services they offer to MGH researchers and greater facilitation of interactions with industrial partners.

Each of the five center directors gave brief overviews of their centers’ progress and investigations. Rox Anderson, MD, director of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, described the use of light-based technologies to examine the inner surfaces of blood vessels, development of advanced microscopy techniques and creation of lasers based in living cells. Center for Systems Biology director Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, outlined studies into the role of immune cells in cancer and the development of new technologies to diagnose tumors and predict treatment response. Noting the diversity of projects undertaken within his center, Brian Seed, PhD, director of the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology, discussed development of an instrument to detect genetic data on Mars, studies of how intestinal immune genes relate to inflammatory bowel disease and work to improve the gene-editing tool CRISPR.

David Scadden, MD, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine, described studies into factors determining the fate of developing cells, the properties of lung-tissue stem cells and the regeneration of organs on cell-free scaffolding. Newly-named director of the Center for Human Genetic Research Sekar Kathiresean, MD, thanked his predecessor James Gusella, PhD, for his leadership, outlined striking examples of how gene variants can significantly alter disease susceptibility and noted that the center is poised to bring gene-based precision medicine into treatment of cardiovascular and other major diseases.

“The five MGH thematic centers have all been highly successful over the past 8 to 12 years, as attested to by their scientific discoveries, the results of our survey and the comments we received from SAC,” says Louis. “The SAC members were very impressed with all of the centers, which led to fruitful discussions about the future of thematic center-oriented research at MGH.” 

Read more articles from the 04/22/16 Hotline issue.

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