Lab Day Provides Exclusive Look Behind the Scientific Curtain

When you love music, you go to a concert. When you love art, you go to a gallery. But when you love science you can’t just go to a laboratory — or can you?

On June 7, six scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital opened their laboratory doors to a group of donors and their friends and family members. These visionary donors have supported research at Mass General through donations to the MGH Research Scholars Program and the MGH Research Institute Alliance.

The MGH Research Scholars program was established in 2011 to provide forward-thinking researchers with the funding they need to take their work into new and uncharted territories. Each MGH Research Scholar is chosen through a competitive application process and receives $500,000 in unrestricted funds ($100,000 per year for five years) that they can use to support new or unproven areas of research that have the potential transform science and medicine.

Lab Day provided an opportunity for donors to see the impact of their support firsthand.

The day started with a talk and tour from Jay Rajagopal, MD, Kevin and Polly Maroni MGH Research Scholar. Dr. Rajagopal discussed his research into lung disorders such as cystic fibrosis. Dr. Rajagopal explained that his team is now able to capture stem cells from the coughs of patients with lung disorders, grow those cells in the lab and then use them to create miniature models of the airway that replicate the functions of the lungs. These models provide the researchers with a better idea of what goes wrong in lung disorders and allows them to observe the effects of new treatment strategies at the cellular level, Rajagopal explained.

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Jay Rajagopal, MD, discusses new roles for stem cells in organ regeneration

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Vladimir Vinarsky, MD provides a tour of the lab

The tour continued to Mass General’s Charlestown Navy Yard campus, where participants split off into two different tracks. One group visited the lab of Caroline Burns, PhD, d’Arbeloff MGH Research Scholar, to learn how she’s devising new strategies to rebuild human hearts after heart attacks by studying the regenerative properties of zebrafish. The group then visited the lab of Mark Poznansky, MD, PhD, Steve and Deborah Gorlin MGH Research Scholar, to hear about his work developing vaccines and immunotherapies to fight disease.

The second group toured the lab of Lawrence Wald, PhD, Charles and Sara Fabrikant MGH Research Scholar, to learn how his team is using magnetic particle imaging to develop a more precise way of locating tumor cells in the body. The technology could help surgeons locate and remove tumor cells while sparing healthy tissues, and will cut down on the number of patients who have to undergo multiple surgeries.

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Lawrence Wald, PhD, explains how they are using magnetic particle imaging to develop the device

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Wald lab member Erica Mason provides a demonstration

The group then visited with David Fisher, MD, PhD, Chief of Dermatology at Mass General and Director of the Melanoma Program at the MGH Cancer Center. Dr. Fisher shared his research into the formation of melanoma and skin pigmentation, as well as his clinical work in translating these understandings into advances in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of human skin diseases.

The day concluded with an eye-opening look at the innovative technologies being developed in Gary Tearney’s lab. Dr. Tearney is the Remondi Family Endowed MGH Research Institute Chair and the Mike and Sue Hazard Family MGH Research Scholar. His lab is developing novel devices to conduct microscopic imaging of the human body at the highest possible level of detail. Learn more about Dr. Tearney’s research.

Lab Day provided a special opportunity to get up close and personal with ground-breaking research happening at Mass General. Thanks to all who participated, and we hope to open many Mass General labs to our donors again next year! To learn more about the MGH Research Scholars program please contact supportresearch@mgh.harvard.edu or visit us online.

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