Friday, April 26, 2013

Three MGH teams honored for clinical research achievements

Three projects led by MGH investigators were named among the Clinical Research Forum’s Top 10 Clinical Research Achievements of 2012 at the organization’s annual meeting on April 18. The MGH-led teams were honored for the development of a system allowing people with paralysis to control computerized equipment via a small device implanted into their brains; a clinical trial showing that a combination of two targeted treatment drugs significantly delays the development of treatment resistance in a common form of melanoma; and a new approach to diagnosing hard-to-find chromosomal abnormalities that can provide critically important information.

“There’s never been a moment in the history of biology that’s more optimistic for spectacular breakthroughs to happen. However, it will require strategic investments at a most difficult time in our history,” says William F. Crowley Jr., MD, director of the MGH Clinical Research Program and founder and past chairman of the Clinical Research Forum. “America is a world leader in biomedical research, and if we are to retain that leadership role globally, we have to continue making these national investments.”

Awardees were selected from nominated projects by the Clinical Research Forum’s Board of Directors, senior leaders at some of the country’s top academic health centers.

MGH award recipients are:


Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD, MGH Neurology, for a Nature paper describing how the investigational BrainGate System – developed through a continuing collaboration with colleagues at Brown University and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Providence – allowed two patients with paralysis in all four limbs to reach for and grasp objects using robotic arms controlled directly by their brain activity. Both study participants have been paralyzed for several years by brainstem strokes. This work also received the Clinical Research Forum’s Herbert Pardes Clinical Research Excellence Award as the most outstanding project nominated for this year’s Top 10 Awards.


Keith Flaherty, MD, MGH Cancer Center, for a New England Journal of Medicine paper reporting that combined treatment with two kinase inhibitors – dabrafenib and trametinib – delayed the development of treatment resistance in metastatic melanoma patients with tumors driven by mutations in the BRAF gene, which accounts for about half the cases of the deadly skin cancer. The phase I/II study, which found that combination treatment delayed resistance about four months longer than treatment with dabrafenib alone, is being followed with a larger phase III trial.


Michael Talkowski, PhD, MGH Center for Human Genetic Research, for two papers. The first, published in Cell, identified 33 genes associated with autism and related disorders, 22 for the first time, using a gene-sequencing method that detects DNA segments that have been moved within the same chromosome or exchanged with segments in other chromosomes, leaving the overall size of the chromosomes unchanged. The second paper, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, described use of the sequencing method to accurately determine the genetic basis of a prenatally detected structural abnormality.

Hochberg and Talkowski’s papers also received the MGH’s Martin Prizes for Basic and Clinical Research, respectively, at the annual Celebration of Science in March. 

Read more articles from the 04/26/13 Hotline issue.

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