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:
Dennis Brown, PhD, Director of the MGH Program in Membrane Biology, assumed the presidency of the American Physiological Society (APS) in April, immediately following the APS annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2017. As one of his presidential goals, Brown underscored the need to reach out to life scientists who may not consider themselves physiologists and welcome them under the APS umbrella.
“My lab focuses on how the kidney responds to signals in the body to maintain water and acid/base balance. Specialized cells detect when there is too much or too little water in the body, and they adjust the amount of urine we produce to keep our fluid level constant. Sometimes this goes wrong, and we end up with too much (hypertension) or too little fluid (dehydration). Similarly, the kidney helps keep blood pH within a normal viable range. When this fails, the blood becomes too acidic, resulting in problems ranging from kidney stones to defective bone formation, and even death. We are using drug discovery approaches to understand and find treatments for these conditions. This work depends on continuing support from federal agencies. Part of my mission as President of the APS is to lobby for increased NIH funding. Our future depends on attracting the best and brightest minds into research labs, and I am looking forward to being a part of this process.”
Kim Francis, PhD, PHCNS-BC, neonatal clinical nurse specialist, has received the inaugural Jeanette Ives Erickson Nursing Research Award, a new honor for nurse researchers sponsored by the MGH Research Institute. The award will be presented annually to a mid-career, doctorally prepared nurse researcher with a passion for scientific inquiry. (Pictured from left, Maurizio Fava, MD, director of the Division of Clinical Research; Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD, scientific director of the Research Institute; Francis; and Jeanette Ives Erickson, RN, DNP, NEA-BC, FAAN, former chief nurse and senior vice president of Patient Care Services)
“I was thrilled to learn I received the inaugural Jeanette Ives Erickson Nursing Research Award. What an honor to be the first recipient. I am extremely grateful to work in an institution that supports nursing research. The support received from this award will go towards learning more about how to recognize pain behaviors for preterm infants.
Recognizing pain for preterm infants remains an area where more information is needed. There are many reasons that make it difficult to decide if a preterm infant is in pain. These reasons include: being born too early, a lack of pain assessment tools and understanding of the pain response. Currently, I am investigating the use of Infrared thermography with preterm infants to find out if this method can be used as a new, low cost, noninvasive approach that can identify pain from skin temperature changes for this at risk population.”
Amit V. Khera, MD, of MGH Cardiology and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Clinical Science Research award by The National Lipid Association. Khera’s winning proposal, “Determinants of LDL Cholesterol and Coronary Artery Disease Among Individuals with a Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) Mutation,” builds on his previous work noting substantial variability among carriers of FH mutations in both LDL cholesterol and heart attack risk. He will specifically aim to characterize the genetic and non-genetic determinants of observed LDL cholesterol levels and assess the genetic, lifestyle and biomarker risk factors for myocardial infarction among those with a FH mutation. The work will inform ongoing efforts to screen the population for such mutations and clinical counseling for patients who inherit such a mutation.
“My work seeks to build an evidence base for ‘genomic medicine’ – the use of human genetics to understand differences in risk for cardiovascular disease, risk factors, and response to medicines.
I am extremely honored to receive this inaugural award from the National Lipid Association, a group that has led the field in both research and clinical management for targeting cholesterol to improve human health. This grant will provide critical support at an early phase in my career.”
Alan Mullen, MD, PhD, of the Gastrointestinal Unit, has been selected as Pew scholar in the biomedical sciences. He is one of 22 exceptional early-career researchers to be selected by The Pew Charitable Trust to pursue foundational research. Mullen’s lab will investigate the role that regulatory RNAs play in chronic liver failure. Using state-of-the-art techniques in genetics, genomics and physiology, he will determine which lncRNAs regulate the production of scar tissue in humans and mice, and whether inhibiting their action can prevent fibrosis – work that could lead to novel treatment to prevent liver failure.
“Most of the genes that are studied in any cell type encode RNAs that provide blueprints for production of proteins. However, recent discoveries have identified many RNAs that do not encode proteins, and we are just beginning to understand how these noncoding RNAs work. I am a clinician who takes care of patients with liver disease, and we are working to understand how a type of noncoding RNA called long noncoding RNA regulates the development of liver fibrosis, which leads to cirrhosis and liver failure. We have identified specific long noncoding RNAs that are expressed in the main cell type responsible for liver fibrosis.
I am very excited to have been named a Pew Scholar. The support from the Pew Charitable Trust will allow us to understand how these noncoding RNAs function and how we can modulate their expression to develop new treatments for liver fibrosis.”
Joseph H. Schwab, MD, Orthopaedic spine surgeon and Orthopaedic Oncology surgeon, has received the CORR ORS Richard A. Brand Award for Outstanding Research from the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Research Society for his paper “Immune Surveillance Plays a Role in Locally Aggressive Giant Cell Lesions of Bone.” The annual award is given to recognize the quality and scientific merit of an original paper focusing on a topic of clinical relevance.
“The work was a collaborative effort between myself and Mass General’s Dr. Soldano Ferrone from the Monoclonal Antibody and Immunotherapy Laboratory and Dr. Leonard Kaban and Dr. Zachary Peacock from the department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Our work focused on the role of immune escape mechanisms in the pathophysiology of giant cell lesions of bone. The data presented in this paper provides important insights into the role of the immune system in giant cell lesions and will serve to guide future treatment strategies.
I was honored to receive this award. My collaborators and I are very excited about the future of immunotherapy for musculoskeletal cancer and it has been great to be recognized for our efforts.”