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Thanks to you and your generous support, our MGH Research Scholars are accomplishing extraordinary things each day. Together, we’re taking new discoveries as far as we can, as fast as we can — toward new possibilities in disease prediction, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

We hope you find this update informative and inspiring. Please email us your comments and questions, and be sure to visit our website for more news and updates.

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Changes in Perceptions of Personal Space Due to COVID-19

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Scientific American recently highlighted research by Daphne Holt, MD, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2018-2023, seeking to identify changes in perceptions of personal space resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a small preliminary study, Holt and her research team found that personal space boundaries in healthy volunteers had increased by 50 percent or more, by one measure, since the start of the pandemic.

Her findings could help identify those who are suffering from mental health issues related to the pandemic, as well as point to new treatment options.

"I think it’s likely that some people will have more trouble readjusting to whatever the new normal is," Holt says. "We may be able to use objective markers of social behavior, such as measurements of personal space, to identify people who need additional support." Read more.

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Jacob Hooker, PhD, Named Scientific Director at the Lurie Center for Autism

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Jacob Hooker, PhD, Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar 2016-2021, has been named the new scientific director at the Lurie Center for Autism at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Hooker hopes to build connections between the Lurie Center’s world-class clinical program and the greater Boston community of innovative science to give individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) more treatment options for core symptoms such as difficulty with social communication. Read more.

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Hakho Lee, PhD, Develops a Quick Test for Marijuana Use

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Hakho Lee, PhD, Hostetter MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022, led a research team that developed a rapid test that reliably detects tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the active ingredient in marijuana — in saliva in under five minutes.

There are some existing saliva tests for THC, but they are hampered by issues like slow processing time or giving only "binary" yes/no results. This new test not only delivers results more rapidly, it can also quantify the amount of THC found, Lee says. Read more.

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Careers Up Close: Yakeel Quiroz, PhD, on Cross-Cultural Alzheimer’s Research

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Yakeel Quiroz, PhD, Paul B. and Sandra M. Edgerley MGH Research Scholar 2020-2025, was recently featured in the Careers Up Close series by the Association for Psychological Science.

Dr. Quiroz discussed her research studying a large extended family in Colombia, many of whose members have a rare genetic mutation that causes early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Studying these individuals has enabled Dr. Quiroz and her team to learn more about the biological progression of AD as well as identify factors of genetic resistance to AD that might inform the development of new therapies. Read more.