The 2019 Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) meeting reflected a shift in focus from the progress of research at the MGH to the challenges facing members of the hospital’s research faculty. The April 4 meeting, preceded by the annual Celebration of Science on April 3, began with a keynote interview by Linda Henry, managing director of the Boston Globe and STAT, of Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow, JD, MPP, PhD, who noted that, while progress has been made to increase research career opportunities for women, underrepresented minorities and those with financial challenges, obstacles still exist.

Karen Donelan, ScD, EdM, of the Mongan Institute Health Policy Center, reviewed the results of a survey of research faculty taken late in 2018. While participants expressed satisfaction with things like collaboration with outstanding colleagues, the innovative science and technology developed at the MGH and mentoring, they were least satisfied with administrative burden, organizational bureaucracy and with the need to raise sometimes-uncertain “soft money” to support their work. More than 23 percent of respondents reported receiving disrespectful treatment they felt was based on gender-related factors, age, or racial or ethnic background.

“In addition to the faculty survey, we solicited personal testimonials from faculty who had confronted diverse impediments to career success – ranging from balancing clinical versus research commitments, to work/life balance, to health challenges to concerns around discrimination,” said David Fisher, MD, PhD, director of Dermatology and chair of the Executive Committee on Research (ECOR).

A separate quality-of-life survey was conducted in September 2018 among CNY-based faculty, and David Langenau, PhD, of the Department of Pathology, explained the distance between CNY and the MGH’s main campus was identified as a major issue, leading many respondents to express feelings of isolation. Limited options for transportation, food and retail options were also cited, and Langenau said measures to address these concerns had begun, including changes to shuttle bus routes, updated parking policies, additional food options, and scientific and social events.

Several faculty members described how resources like the Claflin Awards and the support of senior research mentors enabled them to develop their careers, and members of the Center for Faculty Development reviewed the resources available through the Office for Research Career Development and the Office for Women’s Careers. Afternoon sessions focused on the challenges of attracting and retaining a diverse research workforce, and the importance of raising philanthropic funds to support programs like the MGH Research Scholars.

Fisher said that SAC committee members sharing best practices from their institutions helped leadership brainstorm some MGH-specific challenges, opportunities and potential solutions. “It was a sobering and highly informative process – one that will guide attempts to improve the quality of life for MGH research faculty into the future.” 

Celebration of Science features award-winning research

Recipients of the MGH’s three top research awards gave presentations on their work at the annual Celebration of Science on April 3.

Tanuja Chitnis, MD, of the Department of Neurology, received the Martin Prize for Clinical Research for her New England Journal of Medicine paper describing the first phase 3 clinical trial comparing fingolimod, a new oral drug for pediatric multiple sclerosis, to what had been the standard of care. The trial found that participants receiving fingolimod had an 82 percent reduction in relapses, results that have led to the drug’s FDA approval.

 Robert Anthony, PhD, Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases in the Department of Medicine, received the Martin Prize for Fundamental Research for the Cell paper describing his team’s successful
re-engineering in animal models of antibodies that attack an individual’s own tissues into anti-inflammatory antibodies. This ability, accomplished by attaching a specific sugar molecule to a key antibody region, may help improve treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Marcela Maus, MD, PhD, of the MGH Cancer Center and the Department of Medicine, received the Goodman Fellowship for her investigations into the use of specially engineered immune cells called CAR-T cells to induce an immune response against cancer. The approach has been successful in individuals with some forms of leukemia, but not all patients respond and many have significant side effects. Her team will develop new strategies to improve outcomes and expand the types of cancer that can be treated with immune-system-based therapies.

The MGH Research Scholars Class of 2019 was announced at the evening reception.

  • Jodie Babitt, MD, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology
  • Dara S. Manoach, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
  • Miguel N. Rivera, MD, Department of Pathology, Cancer Center
  • Natalia S. Rost, MD, MPH, Department of Neurology, Fireman Vascular Center
  • Amar Sahay, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Regenerative Medicine