Female STEM Professionals Honored in Male-Dominated Field

Comments on gender and science from Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD, the Scientific Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute and a research scientist with more than two decades of experience at the bench.

Slaugenhaupt was recently named a Woman to Watch in Boston’s science and technology community by the Boston Business Journal.

Award winner Susan Slaugenhaupt, PhD, a professor in the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, has worked toward uncovering a therapy for a rare genetic disease. Slaugenhaupt, however, has a more hopeful perspective on the lack of female leaders in the field. She said she believes that being a minority in this workforce
might be more of a generational problem.

“Take a look at a junior faculty at medical school — it’s about 50-50 males and females,” Slaugenhaupt said. “It’s as you climb up the ladder that women fall off.”

Slaugenhaupt said she thinks there will be a higher level of gender equality within the workforce as generations progress. For example, she said her son doesn’t know why people think it’s amazing that a woman is running for office.

“There’s no difference in the ability to be excellent between men and women,” Slaugenhaupt said. “What’s different are resources that are given to men, time that’s given to men.”

As these women represent a changing culture of female leadership in science and technology, it is not their gender that should be the topic of conversation, Slaugenhaupt said. It is their excellence.

“I do think that it’s important that women has been notoriously at a disadvantage,” she said, “but that we shouldn’t bypass scientific excellence in pursuit of equality.”


The Guide: Have a Heart

At Mass General’s Ott Laboratory for Organ Engineering and Regeneration, a small army of postdocs is drawing on the tenets of tissue engineering and stem cell science to develop “bioartificial” organs and limbs for patients in need. While it sounds like something cooked up in the pages of a Michael Crichton thriller, this novel approach has the potential to revolutionize the future of transplant surgery.


A Flu Scare, 10 Years Later

When Proto Magazine: Dispatches From the Frontiers of Medicine launched its inaugural issue in 2005, researchers were anxiously watching a new flu virus called H5N1, which many were concerned might lead to a global pandemic. Although no global crisis came from the virus, that fear is very much alive. In this video, Dr. Martin Hirsch, a senior physician in the infectious disease service at Mass General, discusses the controversy that followed work on H5N1.

Brain Disease Researchers Track Elusive Protein

Devastating brain diseases like Frontotemporal Dementia and Alzheimer’s have been painfully slow to give up their secrets.  But behavioral neurologist Brad Dickerson, MD, and his Mass General research team are tracking an important protein that has long eluded measurement in the living brain.  Their work may mark a turning point in how such now-incurable conditions are understood and treated.


Researchers Find New Zika Clues to Birth Defect in Fetus Study

“An autopsy of the fetus showed microcephaly or small head size, as well as severe brain injury and high levels of the Zika virus in fetal brain tissues, exceeding levels of the virus typically found in blood samples, researchers in Slovenia from the University Medical Center in Ljubljana reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings help “strengthen the biologic association” between Zika virus infection and microcephaly, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the paper.”


Patients with High-Risk Macular Degeneration Show Improvement with High-Dose Statin Treatment

Although effective treatments are available for the wet form of AMD, they are currently lacking for the more prevalent dry form. The researchers found evidence that treatment with high-dose atorvastatin (80mg) is associated with regression of lipid deposits and improvement in visual acuity, without progression to advanced disease, in high-risk
AMD patients. Their findings were published in EBioMedicine — a new online journal led by editors of the journals Cell and The Lancet — and not only further the connection between lipids, AMD and atherosclerosis, but also present a potential therapy for some patients with dry AMD.


Proton Therapy Controls Common Pediatric Brain Tumor With Fewer Long-Term Side Effects

“The use of proton radiotherapy to treat the most common malignant brain tumor in children is as effective as standard photon (x-ray) radiation therapy while causing fewer long-term side effects such as hearing loss and cognitive disorders, according to a study receiving online publication in Lancet Oncology. The paper from a team led by  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators describes patient outcomes an average of seven years after proton therapy for medulloblastoma, a fast-growing tumor that develops in the cerebellum at the base of the brain.”


Eating Soy May Help Women Undergoing IVF

Bisphenol A, also referred to as BPA, is a chemical found in many common food containers including plastic water bottles, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that more than 96% of Americans have BPA in their bodies.

It can mimic estrogen, an important female sex hormone, with 100 previous studies linking BPA to numerous health problems, including reproductive problems, and women who are trying to conceive are advised to try to reduce their exposure to BPA.

(Russ Hauser,  MD, MPH, ScD, from the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, is senior author of the study.)


Strike Up the Band For Better Health

Massachusetts General Hospital, the largest hospital in Boston, employs four music therapists to work with patients and recruits professional musicians for live performances in waiting rooms and lobbies. Its environmental music program has been enthusiastically received by employees and families who say encountering live music in a hospital instantly improves the experience, said Lorrie Kubicek, a board-certified music therapist at the hospital.

“Most people who pass through an area where there is a live musician playing find it a relaxing and calming experience,” she said.