Mass General Researcher Resolutions

January is the month of reflection and new beginnings. As we look back on this past year, we also look forward to the next and all that can be achieved.

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, we reached out to a few of our top researchers at Mass General to hear about their proudest moments from 2018 and what they look forward to accomplishing in 2019.

Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA

What is your research field of study?

Obesity

What is your proudest accomplishment from the past year?

Working to undo race, gender, and age bias as demonstrated on a highly publicized flight on Delta Airlines.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

I plan to work to educate and conduct research on the pathophysiology of obesity and how we may use multiple treatment modalities to treat pediatric and adult patients with obesity.


Nitya Jain, PhD

What is your research field of study?

I am an immunologist studying how the immune system develops immediately after birth.

What is your proudest accomplishment from the past year?

Two jump out immediately- 1) receiving my first fundable NIH grant score after starting my independent research lab at Mass General and 2) sharing the complexities of the human gut microbiota with over 300 children at the Cambridge Science Festival.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

My goals for 2019 are to stay healthy, remain passionate and ever curious about science and communicate my work to diverse audiences including industry, academia and the public, especially young children.


Shannon Stott, PhD

What is your research field of study?

I am a mechanical engineer that likes to build small devices to isolate cancer biomarkers from patient blood. I also like to take pretty pictures on microscopes (but then analyze the heck out of them!).

What is your proudest accomplishment from the past year?

While I’m very happy (and relieved!) that I received some major grants this year, I’m most proud of a Gordon Research Conference that I co-chaired for Liquid Biopsy. Working with Dr. Stefanie Jeffrey, we put together a week-long conference that was described by a participant as a ‘giant lab meeting’. It was a wonderfully diverse group of individuals from around the world that openly shared unpublished data, discussed challenges in the field and worked together to bring the field forward.

We just received our conference evaluations and I’m so proud of what we achieved. I want to continue to promote openness in research because I believe this is the only way we can truly achieve breakthroughs that will bring us closer to eradicating cancer.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

I am looking forward to sharing our data from pediatric brain tumor patients in 2019. This is a new area of research for us and we are still working on finalizing all of our analysis. Once we publish the work, I am hopeful that it will extend awareness of our work, in turn extending the number of pediatric cancer centers that we can collaborate with.


Helen Riess, MD

What is your research field of study?

My team’s research projects include measuring effects of empathy training (grounded in neuroscience) on patient satisfaction scores, the impact of relational skills on health outcomes, patient assessments of physicians’ non-verbal empathy skills, and cross-cultural aspects of empathy. We are also investigating best practices in the organ donation conversation.

What is your proudest accomplishment from the past year?

The launching of my new book, The Empathy Effect: Seven Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Connect Across Differences, is my proudest accomplishment this past year.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

In the coming year I hope to meet many people and healthcare organizations who are interested in enhancing patient and provider empathy, to bring back the joy of working with patients and each other, and to reduce the epidemic of burnout.


Jonathan Hoggatt, PhD

What is your research field of study?

Our lab studies bone marrow stem cell transplant. We aim to make transplantation faster, safer, cheaper and better for any disease in which stem cell transplantation is used. This includes blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, but also other disease like sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, or even autoimmune diseases like scleroderma and multiple sclerosis.

What is you proudest accomplishment from the past year?

When donating bone marrow stem cells, the classic method is to go under anesthesia and then the doctor will use a large needle to suck the marrow out of the hip bones.

A newer method sainted has a donor get daily injections of a drug called G-CSF for five days. This drug causes the stem cells to traffic out of the bones and float in the blood, where they can then be harvested by a machine similar to donating platelets or plasma. But, this method has many side effects and often leads to unpredictable yields of stem cells.

Excitingly, this past year we published a new method of harvesting stem cells in the journal Cell. Our new method requires only a single injection and is able to acquire bone marrow stem cells in 15 minutes, versus the standard 5 days for G-CSF.

This work was featured by Dr. Francis Collins in his NIH Director’s blog and we are working hard to translate the findings to help donors and patients in need.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

When you transplant bone marrow stem cells the goal in many cases is to cure the disease. To accomplish a cure, and reduce any complications, you need stem cells that are very capable of engrafting during the transplant. (Engrafting is the process by which donor stem cells establish themselves in the recipient and start to make new cells).

Recently, it has become known that not all stem cells are the same, some are great at transplanting and making new blood cells, and others are relatively poor. We recently discovered new, highly engrafting stem cells that appear to be the A+ students of the bone marrow pool.

In the next year we hope to determine why these cells are better than their peers, and to explore the applicability in gene therapy and other stem cell treatments. We describe this project and others that we are working towards on our website.


Sareh Parangi, MD

What is your research field of study?

My work in the lab focuses on thyroid cancer.  Most patients with thyroid cancer do very well but some do not and new therapeutics are needed for these patients.  We work on discovering which genetic and epigenetic changes might lead to more aggressive behavior in thyroid cancer.  Our lab develops important preclinical models of aggressive and metastatic thyroid cancer to allow testing of novel therapeutics.

What is you proudest accomplishment from the past year?

We published an important paper in Cancer Cell on the genomic landscape of Hurthle cell carcinomas. This is a rare and understudied cancer and very aggressive. We had to put together a large multidisciplinary group from MGH and the Broad Institute and used donor funding from the Ruane Family to accomplish the goal- it took more than 6 years total but was worth the effort, this work will help hundreds of patients in the next few years.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

I hope to be able to obtain additional funding based on seed funding provided by the generous Ruane family to be able to make MGH a center for thyroid cancer research with NIH funding through a SPORE or Program Project.


Pike See Cheah, PhD

What is your research field of study?

One of my research interests is gene therapy (also known as the molecular bandage), a powerful strategy involves the introduction of new genes into patient cells, to restore missing or malfunctioning genes aiming to correct genetic diseases. Being part of the Gene therapy for Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) Program, I am involved in developing gene replacement therapy to prevent life-threatening syndromes in TSC, a multi-system genetic disease characterized by growth of non-cancerous tumors in the brain and other vital organs.

What is your proudest accomplishment from the past year?

Our team have successfully engineered a novel AAV vector encoding a replacement gene for the mutated gene targeting TSC (which also currently filed as a Patent Cooperation Treaty/PCT application).

Also, our in vivo study demonstrated the remarkable ability of a single injection of this AAV-vector to substantially improved the brain lesions and extended the lifespan of the TSC mouse model, shedding light on a potential strategy for a one-shot cure for TSC.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

We are working towards next level of preclinical validation and development of this viral-based therapy with established efficacy and safety of the gene therapy. We will continue to grow by partnering with clinicians and biotechnology companies to transition from preclinical studies to clinical trials.


Giusy Romano-Clarke, MD

What is your research field of study?

I am one of the newborn nursery attendings and take care of babies born at Mass General. I work on Care Quality Improvement translating new evidence based research into hospital protocols that ensure the best possible neonatal care at our institution.

What is your proudest accomplishment from the past year?

During the past year, I spearheaded the adoption of a protocol for newborn early sepsis risk assessment to reduce unnecessary antibiotic treatment in well appearing newborns 35 weeks gestation or older. This has resulted in a 80% reduction of babies who receive antibiotics during their birth admission without causing any unforeseen complications.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?

In the coming year, I will continue to track the outcomes from newborn sepsis assessment protocol and I will work on reducing the length of antibiotic treatment from 48 to 36 hours for the babies who receive them but remain clinically stable and have reassuring blood work. I also hope to extend the same early sepsis assessment protocol to well appearing newborns younger than 35 weeks gestation.


About the Mass General Research Institute
Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States. Research at Mass General takes place in over 30 departments, centers and institutes and is supported by federal and state funding, foundations, industry partners and philanthropic donations. Support our research.

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