The Mass General Research Institute

Research Awards and Honors: August 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:

Gaurdia Banister, RN, PhD, NEA-BC, FAAN, executive director of the MGH Institute for Patient Care and director of the Yvonne L. Munn Center for Nursing Research, has been named the inaugural incumbent of the Connell-Jones Endowed Chair in Nursing and Patient Care Research. The Department of Nursing and Patient Care celebrated the establishment of the chair June 26 at the Paul S. Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation. The establishment of the chair is the second endowed chair in the Department of Nursing and Patient Care and will help advance the nursing profession and patient-and-family-centered-care through a diverse range of research programs. (Pictured from left: Britain Nicholson, MD, senior vice president for Development; Margot C. Connell, the donor; Banister; and Jeanette Ives Erickson, RN, DNP, NEA-BC, FAAN, chief nurse and senior vice president of Patient Care Services)

“It is impossible to put into words how honored and humbled I feel to have been chosen as the Connell- Jones Endowed Chair for Nursing and Patient Care Research. Advancing nursing knowledge and using that knowledge to deliver exemplary patient care is extremely important to me. One of my research interests is understanding and eliminating the barriers that compromise African American nurses and nursing students from achieving their full potential as clinicians and nurse leaders. Although minorities constitute 37 percent of the country’s population, minority nurses make up only 16.8 percent of the total nurse population. The disparity is even greater in leadership positions. Lack of access to health care providers who can deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate care can adversely contribute to existing health disparities. Improving the diversity of the nursing profession to meet the needs of patients and their families and eliminating these disparities are essential.”

Jennifer Gatchel, MD, PhD, Mass General psychiatrist, has received the Outstanding Emerging Researcher Award from the BrightFocus Foundation. She presented her latest research during a June 8 reception and dinner event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

“Improving the lives of older adult patients with depression, anxiety, and changes in memory and thinking is my central motivation as a Geriatric Psychiatrist and physician scientist. Towards this goal, my research at MGH focuses on better understanding the earliest mood and behavioral symptoms in older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  I am doing this by using a combination of clinical measures and novel brain imaging technology that enables visualization of disease-associated proteins in the brains of living older adults. The ultimate goal of my research is to translate this knowledge into ways to better prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and to promote healthy brain aging in vulnerable older adults.

I was thrilled and extremely honored to be recognized as the Outstanding Emerging Research Scientist by the Bright Focus Foundation in recognition of my work. This award has provided critical support to me as junior investigator.  It has helped make it possible for me to begin to develop an area of important research to benefit our aging population and their families—central to my mission as a Geriatric Psychiatrist.”

Aaron Hata, MD, PhD, of the Mass General Cancer Center, has received a 2017 Clinical Scientist Development Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The awardees distinguish themselves by the rigor of their research endeavors and their commitment to future excellence as independent clinical researchers in the biomedical field. The award makes possible for recipients to dedicate 75 percent of their professional time to clinical research at a time when they are facing competing priorities as both researcher and clinical care provider.

“My research focuses on understanding how drug resistance develops in lung cancer patients whose tumors have mutations in the EGFR gene. Over the past decade, a number of new “EGFR-targeted” drugs have been developed that are able to initially shrink these tumors, however, they invariably stop working and relapse occurs. We are trying to understand how some cells are able to persist during treatment and ultimately grow back.

I am thrilled to receive a Clinical Scientist Development Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This award will enable us to generate a high-resolution understanding of how individual tumor cells evolve in patients over the course of treatment. Ultimately our goal is to develop new therapies that can target these surviving cells early before drug resistance is able to develop.”

Steven H. Liang, PhD, of the Department of Radiology, has received the 2017 Early Career Award in Chemistry of Drug Abuse and Addiction from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The award is to facilitate basic chemistry research applied to drug abuse and addiction.

“My scientific interests are radiochemistry, nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging – a key and fast-growing ground for translational science and precision medicine in patient care. I have developed several novel radiolabeling technologies and PET imaging biomarkers to access important biological targets that were previously inaccessible.

As the recipient of 2017 Early Career Award in Chemistry of Drug Abuse and Addiction (ECHEM award) from NIH, my team will develop and translate new PET biomarkers for imaging an important biological enzyme, monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) in the endocannabinoid system. MAGL inhibition has recently emerged as a therapeutic strategy to treat drug addiction, substance-use disorders as well as neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. I am thankful to the NIH for this support which will help us develop an imaging tool which we hope can be progressed for translational human imaging studies and used to investigate underlying mechanisms of MAGL-linked diseases.”

Mikael Pittet, PhD, Samana Cay MGH Research Scholar, of the Center for Systems Biology, has received the inaugural MGH Principal Investigator Mentoring Award. This award is given to a principal investigator who has contributed to the success of PhD graduate students at Mass General.

Mikael Pittet’s laboratory at Center for Systems Biology studies the role of the immune system in cancer. Established in 2007, the Pittet laboratory has made several discoveries, which indicate new ways to successfully treat cancer with immunotherapy. Mikael also directs the Cancer Immunology Program at CSB and currently mentors three PhD students.

“I am greatly honored to be the recipient of this inaugural mentoring award. I am lucky to work with the most terrific students, and grateful about the fact that they nominated me. Thank you, team!”

Dorothy Sippo, MD, MPH, a Radiologist in Breast Imaging, has been awarded an Association of University Radiologists GE Radiology Research Academic Fellowship Award. The fellowships help radiologists by strengthening the research interest of radiologist-investigators by broadening their opportunities for continuing scholarship and by fostering original clinical and health services research in technology assessment, health and economic outcome methods and decision analysis.

“My project entitled, ‘Development and Assessment of an Automated Outcomes Feedback Application to Optimize Radiologist Performance Using Digital Tomosynthesis with Mammography,’ aims to automatically provide mammographers with feedback about the outcomes of their patients (whether or not breast cancer is ultimately diagnosed). The goal of this feedback is to enable continuous learning integrated into the patient care setting to aid mammographers in providing the highest quality care.

It is thanks to the strength and diversity of our research team, bringing together mentors and collaborators from the MGH Radiology Department, Harvard Medical and Public Health Schools that we have been able to formulate this informatics feedback intervention. It is being built into the electronic system breast imagers use for reporting. The GERRAF will support my study of radiologists using the feedback application for one year, with in-depth quantitative and qualitative analyses. My goal is for it to be an important stepping stone to future independent research funding.”