Friday, March 29, 2013

Science takes center stage

SCIENCE EXPLAINED: Olive Mwizerwa, center, of the Center for
Regenerative Medicine describes her prize-winning poster on the
development of engineered muscle tissue to repair facial injuries.

“THIS IS ONE OF MY favorite days of the year,” said Robert Kingston, PhD, chief of MGH Molecular Biology and chair of the Executive Committee on Research (ECOR) in his welcome address at the March 20 Celebration of Science event, held in conjunction with the 66th annual meeting of the hospital’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). In their introductory remarks both he and MGH President Peter L. Slavin, MD, noted how the committee’s guidance over the years has led to advances ranging from the hospital’s first building dedicated to research to the establishment of the Office for Research Careers Development. Many of the issues discussed during the two-day meeting – particularly the need to provide financial support not tied to external funding – reflected consistent themes that SAC has addressed over the years, Kingston noted.

The celebration kicked off with the annual SAC poster session highlighting 210 studies by MGH investigators, 12 of which were named “posters of distinction.” The complete poster session book can be viewed at The scientific session began with presentations by the winners of the hospital’s annual research awards:

•  Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD, of MGH Neurology, received the Joseph Martin Prize for Basic Research for a May 17 Nature paper describing his collaboration with investigators at other institutions to develop a system allowing people with paralysis to control – with their thoughts alone – devices ranging from a computer cursor to a robotic arm, via a small device implanted into their brains. Hochberg’s presentation featured a video showing a woman paralyzed by a stroke using the system to lift coffee to her mouth and take a drink for the first time in 14 years.

•  Michael Talkowski, PhD, of the Center for Human Genetic Research, received the Martin Prize for Clinical Research for his April 27 Cell paper identifying 33 genes associated with autism spectrum disorders using a new way to pinpoint hard-to-find chromosomal abnormalities. The approach his team developed has been used to accurately diagnose gene disruptions underlying some prenatally detected structural abnormalities and to give parents and caregivers information critical to decision making.

•  David Langenau, PhD, of MGH Pathology and the Center for Cancer Research, received the Howard Goodman Award for his work using zebrafish to identify mechanisms of relapse in T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. Members of his team, particularly Jessica Blackburn, PhD, have found large numbers of leukemia-initiating cells in these cancers and identified one of the molecular pathways involved. The Goodman award will allow them to investigate drugs that may inhibit this pathway and offer a new therapeutic option.

After Kingston’s announcement of the 2013 MGH Research Scholars (see sidebar at right) the scientific keynote talks were given by two of the 2012 Research Scholars. Galit Alter, PhD, of MGH Medicine and the Ragon Institute, described her investigations into the functions of different classes of antibodies and how the immune system “tunes” the antibody response to particular pathogens, including HIV. Nir Hacohen, PhD, of MGH Medicine and the   Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Disease, discussed how the immune system responds when it senses damaged DNA and how breakdowns in that system may be involved in inflammation, cancer and aging. 

The March 21 SAC meeting began with the annual ECOR report from Kingston, followed by departmental research reports from David Louis, MD, chief of Pathology; Jerrold Rosenbaum, MD, chief of Psychiatry; Andrew Luster, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology; and Bruce Rosen, MD, PhD, director of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. 

The afternoon session, entitled “Next Generation Science at MGH,” featured members of two strategic planning workgroups. Harry Orf, PhD, senior vice president for Research, led the Research Strategic Planning Workgroup’s presentation, which focused on the potential establishment of a virtual MGH Research Institute. Andrea Paciello, executive director of Radiation Oncology, led a panel from the Research-Clinical Integration Workgroup that discussed the need to improve collaboration with industry and with other academic and scientific institutions, to engage more patients and clinicians in research, and to attracting more junior faculty into careers in translational research.

Kingston says, “The SAC members were very impressed with the breadth of excellent research that they saw presented, as were all of us on ECOR and in hospital leadership. As always, we appreciate their valuable guidance in helping us meet the challenges facing everyone in the academic research community.”

Read more articles from the 03/29/13 Hotline issue.

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