Research Awards and Honors: April 2017

Massachusetts General Hospital’s talented and dedicated researchers are working to push the boundaries of science and medicine every day. In this series we highlight a few individuals who have recently received awards or honors for their achievements:

Joel HabenerJoel Habener, MD, MGH endocrinologist, has been awarded the Harrington Prize for Innovation – along with Daniel Drucker, MD, of Mount Sinai Hospital, Canada, and Jens Holst, MD, DMSc, University of Copenhagen, Denmark – for their discovery of incretin hormones and for the translation of these findings into transformative therapies for major metabolic diseases such as diabetes. The prize – established in 2014 by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio and The American Society for Clinical Investigation – honors physician-scientists who have moved science forward with achievements notable for innovation, creativity and potential for clinical application.

Our research is focused on the discovery of novel molecular and pharmacologic approaches for the treatment of obesity and diabetes. We are working toward increasing our understanding of the cellular and physiological mechanisms by which  glucagon-like peptide 1, a hormone in the pancreas that stimulates cells there to produce insulin, and its small peptide derivatives increase energy expenditure, burn body fat, and improve insulin sensitivity thereby lowering body weight and the risk for the development of diabetes.

I am honored to receive the Harrington Prize in Innovative Medicine – shared with my colleagues Daniel J. Drucker and Jens J. Holst. The goal of our research program at the MGH is to identify new, more effective methods to treat obesity-related diabetes and its associated metabolic disorders.


Steven LubitzSteven Lubitz, MD, MPH, of the Cardiology Division, has received a Doris Duke Clinical Research Mentorship award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). The program supports a dedicated year-long research effort between a medical student and a DDCF-funded clinical investigator and role model. Lubitz will mentor a visiting medical student from the University of California, San Francisco on a project that leverages the electronic health record to assess patients at greatest risk of morbidity from atrial fibrillation.

Our overall goal is to minimize strokes and other complications caused by an irregular or rapid heartbeat, otherwise known as atrial fibrillation (AFib). In many individuals, AFib occurs in the setting of reversible clinical triggers, such as surgery, pneumonia, or hyperthyroidism. The long-term risks and optimal management of such patients once the trigger is resolved are unclear. The specific objective of this project is to better understand the clinical triggers that cause AFib, as well as the risks of recurrent AFib and other complications after the triggers are resolved. This project will leverage the electronic health record, which is a unique and well-powered resource for addressing such questions.

I’m delighted to have received this award. The Doris Duke Clinical Research Mentorship award provides a bright and dedicated medical student with the opportunity to experience an immersive research experience, acquire foundational clinical research skills, and study a disease of immense public health importance.


Laurence RahmeLaurence Rahme, PhD, from the Center for Surgery, Science and Bioengineering, has been elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology. This academy is an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology recognizing excellence, originality and leadership in the microbiological sciences. Rahme is well known for the development of alternative therapies to fight bacterial infections designed to disarm pathogens from their ability to be virulent, an approach that could reduce antibiotic use, decrease the development of antibiotic resistance and preserve beneficial flora. Recently, her group developed tools and identified prognostic biomarkers that could identify individuals at risk for multiple infections prior to the onset of the infection – enabling a more precise personalized medicine approach to infectious disease that would improve treatment outcome.

I am greatly humbled and honored to be receiving this honor!  I am excited to join the many outstanding Fellows of the Academy and continue to contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance.


Hanna GagginHanna K. Gaggin, MD, MPH, FACC of the Cardiology Division, has been named a member of Cardiology Today’s Next Gen Innovators – a group of early career cardiologists have been identified as innovators in their field. These leaders represent the next generation of cardiologists who are working to educate their colleagues, conduct research on new and novel strategies to advance cardiovascular care and innovate the unique aspects of the cardiology specialty. The Next Gen Innovators list will be announced in the April issue of Cardiology Today.

I study the clinical application of novel and established cardiac biomarkers to better understand and personalize a patient’s medical management beyond traditionally available methods. My focus has been on three patient groups: heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, heart failure with preserved ejection fraction and type 2 myocardial infarction.

I was super-excited to be named a NextGen Innovator! To receive recognition from a source with a broad general cardiology reach is such a nice affirmation of the importance of these topics in the field of cardiology. I am looking forward to serving as a member of this group to guide their editorial coverage and get involved in media communications of significant research findings at meetings through Cardiology Today. It’s a great opportunity for a junior faculty, such as myself, to have a voice in the field.


March for Science Recap

MGH March for Science w/ Dr. Slavin

On Saturday, April 22, hundreds of members of the Mass General community—along with their families, colleagues and friends—gathered on the Bulfinch Lawn to join the “Stand Up for Science” rally.

Following remarks by Regina Larocque, MD, of the Physicians for Policy Action, Peter L. Slavin, MD, Mass General president, and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Boston), participants walked together to the Boston Common to join the Boston March for Science, which attracted thousands of supporters.

The goal of the Boston march was to unite a diverse and nonpartisan group to celebrate the city as an exceptional place for scientists and scientific research. Mass General joined this important effort as a visible sign of solidarity and support for the crucial role that science plays in improving the lives and health for our patients.

“Science is healing our patients, relieving pain, restoring lives, and offering health and hope. The MGH is science,” said Dr. Slavin.

He went on to say “the proposed drastic budget cuts to the NIH would have a devastating effect on our institution and our patients – present and future. We believe that the federal budget should reflect the powerful and vital role that science plays in supporting our democracy. This march is a way to reaffirm that belief.”

See more photos from the event

See slideshow with additional photos

Dr. Stanford Addresses Barriers and Disparities in Obesity Treatment

April is National Minority Health Month—a time to raise awareness on issues impacting health disparities and health equity in America. Learn how Mass General’s Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford is addressing barriers and disparities by taking a holistic approach to both treat and advocate for patients who have obesity.

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Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA

Continue reading “Dr. Stanford Addresses Barriers and Disparities in Obesity Treatment”

Research Rumble Recap and the Art of Effective Science Communication

Last night five researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed off their science communication skills in a Research Rumble at the Cambridge Public Library as part of Cambridge Science Festival.

Marc Sabatino
Co-Director of Brigham’s Research Institute, Marc Sabatine, served as emcee

We heard about topics ranging from traumatic brain injury suffered by women in abusive relationships, to genetic sequencing in newborn babies, to Alzheimer’s disease.

The judges, Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture for the City of Boston; Carey Goldberg, editor of WBUR’s CommonHealth blog; Christine Reich, PhD, Vice President of Exhibit Development and Conservation at the Boston Museum of Science; and Mark VanDerzee, co-founder of Company One, provided insightful feedback to our contestants. They offered suggestions for simplifying the science (i.e. avoid scientific jargon and abbreviations) and how to make the presentations feel more like narrative stories by adding in personal anecdotes and discussing the bigger picture.

The judges chose Mass General’s own Jonathan Hoggatt, PhD, as the winner, but the broader goal of the event was to share ideas about effective science communication.

John Hogatt
Jonathan Hoggatt, PhD, talks about his lab’s new method for donating bone marrow

The ability to communicate complicated scientific information clearly and effectively is challenging, but it’s an important skill that helps researchers reach a wider audience. Given the competitive research funding landscape, effective science communicators are also able to better articulate the significance and potential real-world impact of their work to potential funders.

So much has been written and said on the topic of science communication. To name a few:

  • Check out this great TED Talk from Melissa Marshall where she shares tips for presenting complex scientific ideas to a general audience.
  • This article from Forbes re-emphasizes the importance of using simple language to help everyday folks understand the importance of your science.
  • Lastly, the Mass General Research Institute has launched several initiatives to help researchers hone their science communication skills.
Group photo
Thanks to all our Research Rumble participants!

Celebrating the Role of Women in Science and Much More

Interested in the newest research studies and hot topics? Check out the latest issues of “From the Lab Bench”, a monthly newsletter from the Office of the Scientific Director at the Mass General Research Institute, and “Research Roundup”,  our monthly recap of the latest biomedical research news.

In this month’s issue of From the Lab Bench, we celebrate the role of women in science, and we share our response to the proposed NIH cuts. In Research Roundup you’ll read about a new study that finds aspirin use is associated with a lower risk of dying from various types of cancers, plus a new smartphone device that screens for male infertility.

Check back on our website every month for new updates!

Adhering to Treatment During Adolescence Keeps HIV-Positive Youth on Healthier Track

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As HIV therapies have improved in recent decades, we are now seeing the first generation of youth who were born with the disease, or acquired it shortly after birth, live to adulthood. As this population matures, researchers are looking to learn more about how these individuals have fared in managing their condition in order to improve long-term treatment and care.

A recent Massachusetts General Hospital study of 1,400 individuals between the ages of 7 and 30 born with HIV found that teens and young adults are more likely to have a difficult time managing their condition than they did as younger children. Those in the study group who had good HIV control generally experienced good overall health outcomes, while those who had poor HIV control – meaning higher levels of HIV virus and lower levels of CD4 immune cells had more physical and mental health conditions, a higher incidence of health complications, and a greater risk of death.

“Adolescents infected with HIV – either at birth or later in life – experience poorer health outcomes compared to adults with HIV in nearly every respect”, says Anne Neilan, MD, MPH, of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center, who led the study. “We need to act to strengthen these services for youth, taking into account their developmentally specific needs. That might include youth-friendly services that consider the substantial stigma many of these patients face, novel approaches to antiretroviral therapy delivery, and improving support for youth transitioning from pediatric to adult health care providers.”

Andrea Ciaranello, MD, MPH, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center, is senior author of the study. Anne Neilan, MD, MPH, of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center, led the study. Read more about this study here.

Mass General Stands Up for Science

to5dz.png This Saturday, April 22, thousands of supporters are expected to come together on the Boston Common from 2-4pm for the March for Science, an event also taking place in Washington, DC, and in more than 400 cities around the world. The Boston March for Science will celebrate the discovery, understanding and sharing of scientific knowledge. Several groups from Massachusetts General Hospital are working together to organize and ensure a strong presence to reaffirm the message about the essential role that science – biomedical research, in particular – plays in improving life and health.

We hope to see you there for what is sure to be a memorable and inspiring day!



The Secret to a Healthier, Happier Life is Priceless, According to Harvard Study

We’ve all been told that certain habits, like eating a well-balanced diet or getting enough sleep, are beneficial for our long-term health. But how do our relationships with others impact our overall well-being? A nearly 80-year-old Harvard study has some good news for social butterflies.

“Our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, MD, director of the study, and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study found that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ or even genes.

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80,” said Waldinger. Several other studies have found that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.

“Loneliness kills,” Waldinger said. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.”

You can read the full story in the Harvard Gazette.

Also check out Dr. Waldinger’s popular TED Talk.

New Study Finds Low-Dose Aspirin May Lower Risk of Cancer Death

63889039 - heap of round white tablets and plastic pills bottleA new study from Massachusetts General Hospital reports that long-term regular aspirin was associated with a lower risk of dying from various types of cancers.

Lead author, Yin Cao, MPH, ScD, a researcher in the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and her team studied the health outcomes of approximately 86,000 women and 44,000 men who had been prescribed aspirin at various doses and duration over the course of 32 years.

The biggest benefit came from reducing colorectal cancer deaths: Men and women who regularly took aspirin reduced their chances of dying from colorectal cancer by a third. Women also reduced their risk of dying from breast cancer by 11 percent, while men were 23 percent less likely to die from prostate cancer. The benefit seemed to be greatest for people taking two to seven doses of regular-strength aspirin—325 mg per tablet—each week.

It’s still not entirely clear how aspirin lowers cancer risk. Researchers suspect that aspirin’s ability to lower inflammation and control inflammatory factors that may contribute to abnormal cell growth in tumors may reduce risk. Plus, its anticoagulant properties that prevent clots from forming may prevent cancerous cells that break away from tumors from sticking to other areas in the body and growing into metastatic tumors.

Regular aspirin use has already been recommended as a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

Cao cautions that patients and physicians should consider all potential benefits and risks before beginning any new aspirin regimens. More work is needed to weigh these potential benefits against the risks of long-term use, which include gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke.

The data of this study was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017, which took place earlier this month in Washington, DC.

Doctors Look To Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease Decades Before Symptoms or Diagnosis

Healthcare providers are focusing more on prevention, given recent discoveries into this degenerative neurological condition. Meanwhile, treatment and management remain challenging, as families and caregivers often struggle to find appropriate and affordable care.

Check out this interview from New Hampshire Public Radio which includes Massachusetts General Hospital cognitive neuroscientist and instructor of neurology, Jonathan Jackson, PhD.