Friday, March 6, 2009

Martin awards honor top MGH basic and clinical research published in 2008

First Martin Awards presented: From left, Martin, Breton and Shum

Two MGH research teams received the first annual Joseph B. Martin Research Awards at the Feb. 11 Celebration of Science Colloquium dinner held in conjunction with the annual Scientific Advisory Committee meeting. Established in honor of Joseph B. Martin, MD, PhD, former dean of Harvard Medical School and a previous chief of the MGH Neurology Service, the awards honor the best MGH basic and clinical research papers published in 2008.

The basic research award was presented to a team from the Program in Membrane Biology/Division of Nephrology within the MGH Center for Systems Biology for a paper appearing in the Dec. 12 issue of Cell. It had been assumed that the deepest layer of the epithelial tissue that lines bodily cavities primarily provides structural foundation. Under the leadership of Sylvie Breton, PhD, the MGH investigators showed that "basal" cells actually extend to the surface of tissues in the respiratory and male reproductive systems, where they act like tiny sensors to detect hormones and pathogens and transmit signals to adjacent cells. Winnie Shum, PhD, and Nicolas Da Silva, PhD, were first and second authors of the paper, which will potentially rewrite textbook information on these cells and may lead to new ways to intervene in a broad range of physiologic processes.

"We are deeply honored to receive the first Martin Basic Research Award," says Breton, who in 1997 was among the first recipients of the Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award that helps young women build research careers at MGH. "In addition to the substantial financial support this award provides to our laboratory, it also illustrates the tremendous commitment of MGH to its research enterprise. It is truly rewarding to work in such a supportive environment."

The clinical award honored a Jan. 24 New England Journal of Medicine paper by the Transplantation Biology Research Center (TBRC) and clinical Transplant Center. A protocol combining kidney and bone marrow transplantation allowed four of five recipients to discontinue immunosuppressive drugs, despite receiving organs from immunologically mismatched donors. Another landmark in the TBRC team’s pursuit of ways to trick the immune system into regarding a donor organ as "self," the study has led to a multi-institutional clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The research team includes TBRC investigators, led by David Sachs, MD, and Megan Sykes, MD; transplant surgeons Tatsuo Kawai, MD, and A. Benedict Cosimi, MD; Thomas Spitzer, MD, director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit; and Nina Tolkoff-Rubin, MD, medical director of Kidney Transplantation.

"We are honored and grateful to receive this prestigious award," says Sachs. "It has been gratifying to see many years of basic research translated into a clinical protocol that allows these patients to avoid the burden of chronic immunosuppression. Our results could not have been achieved without the dedication and commitment of many clinicians and researchers in a collaborative effort fostered by the unique clinical research environment at MGH."

A scientific symposium to celebrate the Martin awards will take place May 7 from 3 to 5 pm at the Simches Research Center, conference room 3110.

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