Four Mass General Investigators Recognized with Endowed Chairs

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Massachusetts General Hospital recently established four endowed chairs. Meet the four investigators whose work and contributions have been recognized through their appointment to these roles and please join us in congratulating them!


Marlene FreemanMarlene Freeman, MD, associate director of the Mass General Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health and the Department of Psychiatry, was appointed the inaugural incumbent of the Abra Prentice Foundation Endowed Chair in Women’s Mental Health.

“It is such an honor for me to be the recipient of this generous gift to our program, department and hospital.  I am grateful to Mrs. Wilkin and her foundation trustees for this incredible gift.  The enduring fund provided by this Chair will allow me to continue to do work that I am passionate about and that ultimately I believe will help and empower large numbers of women and their families.”


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Moussa Mansour, MD, director of the Atrial Fibrillation Program at Mass General, received the inaugural Jeremy Ruskin, MD, and Dan Starks Endowed Chair in Cardiology.

“I feel very fortunate to be the recipient of the Jeremy Ruskin and Dan Starks endowed Chair in Cardiology. Dr. Ruskin is my mentor and he is a pioneer and one of the founders of modern cardiac electrophysiology. Dan Starks is a visionary and his strategies in the companies that he lead resulted in the development of new technologies that saved the lives of millions of people. Being named to a chair that holds the names of these two individuals is a great honor.”


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Patrick L. Purdon, PhD, associate director of the Mass General Neuroscience Statistics Research Laboratory, was honored as the inaugural incumbent of the Nathaniel M. Sims, MD, Endowed Chair in Anesthesia Innovation and Bioengineering.

“I’m thrilled to be the recipient of the Sims Chair. Nat Sims has been a hugely influential mentor for me in my efforts to translate neuroscience and engineering advances into medical innovations. I’m also greatly indebted to my colleagues in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, and at MGH as a whole, most notably my long-time mentor and colleague Emery Brown. The collaborative and creative culture at MGH has been a huge part of my success. The support provided by the Sims Chair will help me pursue exciting new research on brain dynamics in aging and child development, and to develop new technologies to improve brain health and to help treat opioid overdose patients.”


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Pictured from left: Britain Nicholson, MD, senior vice president for Development; Thomas Brady, MD, vice chairman of MGH Radiology Research and the chair’s donor; Wedeen; James Brink, MD, MGH radiologist-in-chief

Van Wedeen, MD, of the Athinoula A. Matrinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, has been appointed as the inaugural incumbent of the Thomas J. Brady, MD, Endowed Chair in Radiology.

Four Massachusetts General Hospital Researchers Receive Prestigious NIH Director’s Awards

Please join us in congratulating the four Mass General investigators who recently received director’s awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)! These awards are given to exceptionally creative scientists who propose innovative approaches with high-impact potential to major challenges in biomedical research.

Continue reading to learn more about each researcher and their proposed work as well as their reaction to receiving this award.

New Innovator Award

The New Innovator Award supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects.

Evan Macosko, M.D., Ph.D.
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital

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“I am delighted and honored that the NIH is willing to support this high-risk technology project.  The lab can’t wait to get started on some potentially very impactful scientific work.”

Project Title: Slide-Seq: High-Resolution In Situ Expression Profiling for Neuropathology
Grant ID: DP2-AG-058488

Evan Macosko is a principal investigator in the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad institute, and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His research focuses on developing and leveraging new technologies in genomics to characterize pathophysiological mechanisms in neuropsychiatric diseases. As a postdoc in Steven McCarroll’s lab at Harvard Medical School, he developed a new method, Drop-seq, for performing highly parallel gene expression analysis of single cells from complex neural tissues. He completed a psychiatry residency at MGH and McLean Hospital, and is currently an attending psychiatrist at MGH. He holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Genetics from Rockefeller University, and an M.D. from Weill Cornell Medical College.

Radhika Subramanian, Ph.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

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“I am extremely grateful and honored to receive the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. The support provided by this award will allow my lab to pursue a new research direction where we will develop a versatile cell-free imaging platform that will enable us to decipher how spatial cues are encoded and decoded within cells. We expect that the toolkit established here will be applicable for elucidating the fundamental mechanisms that govern the spatial organization of cellular reactions that underlie diverse cell-­biological  processes of biomedical significance such as cell division, migration, and development.”

Project Title: A Versatile Platform for Reconstructing the Spatial Organization of Intracellular Signaling During Cell-Division
Grant ID: DP2-GM-126894

Radhika Subramanian is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Her lab focuses on elucidating the fundamental principles by which intracellular spatial organization on the micron-length scale is achieved by the collective activity of nanometer-sized proteins. Radhika received her M.Sc. in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India. She performed her doctoral research with Dr. Jeff Gelles at Brandeis University followed by postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Tarun Kapoor at the Rockefeller University. In addition to the NIH New Innovator Award, Radhika is a Pew Biomedical Scholar and a recipient of the Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research.

Brian Wainger, M.D., Ph.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital | Harvard Medical School

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“I’m thrilled to receive the award. It’s a great honor, and I’m grateful for the hard work of my group, particularly Joao Pereira and Anna-Claire Devlin, that enabled it. It’s also of course due to very strong support from MGH, the departments of Neurology and Anesthesia, Critical Care & Pain Medicine. And with the award comes an even greater responsibility to produce research that ultimately helps our patients – I’m excited and humbled by that.”

Project Title: A Human Stem Cell-Derived Neuromuscular Junction Model for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Grant ID: DP2-NS-106664

Brian Wainger is a physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Neurology and Anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School. He received his undergraduate degree in molecular biology from Princeton University and M.D./Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, where he worked on ion channel physiology with Steven Siegelbaum. Following medical residency in the Partners Neurology Program and clinical fellowship in Interventional Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, he completed a research fellowship with Clifford Woolf at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Masters Program in Clinical and Translational Investigation at Harvard Medical School. He is a Principal Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Principal Faculty at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and a member of the Harvard Neurobiology Program. His lab research focuses on modeling motor and sensory neuron diseases using stem cell technology and electrophysiology.

Early Independence Award

The Early Independence Award supports outstanding junior scientists with the intellect, scientific creativity, drive, and maturity to flourish independently by bypassing the traditional post-doctoral training period.

Zirui Song, M.D., Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital

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“It is an honor to receive this grant and join an inspiring community of investigators. I am grateful to the faculty and colleagues who made my training possible. This grant will allow me to continue my research on strategies to improve the value of care, including studying efforts to decrease costs, improve quality, and increase the sustainability of our public programs like Medicare. In addition, this grant provides an opportunity to better understand how providers are leading delivery system reforms on the front lines and how different segments of the population are faring in the era of health care reform.”

Project Title: Inequities in Health Outcomes in the Twenty-First Century: Understanding New Causes and the Impact of Delivery System Reforms on Health Care Disparities
Grant ID: DP5-OD-024564
Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Zirui Song is an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and an internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. His research has focused on health care spending and quality under new payment models for provider organizations, the impact of changes in Medicare physician payment policy, and the economics of health insurance in the Medicare Advantage program. He received a B.A. in Public Health Studies with honors from Johns Hopkins University, an M.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School, and a Ph.D. in Health Policy, Economics track, from Harvard University, where he was a fellow in Aging and Health Economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He completed his residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Study Finds Less than 20% of Americans are Active Consumers of Science News

Here at the Mass General Research Institute, we live and breathe science news every day.

We’re eager to find out what’s happening in the research labs, centers and institutes at Massachusetts General Hospital (and with biomedical science in general), and share what we’ve learned on our blog and website.

But what about the general public? Do they share the same interest in science?

A recent Pew Research Survey of 4,000 adults aged 18 and over found that only 17 percent of respondents were “active consumers” of science news. Active consumers were defined as those who get science news several times a week, either by chancing across it or by actively seeking it out.

Details of the Study

The study found that general news outlets are the most common sources of science stories, though respondents indicated that they tend to view information from niche sources such as scientific institutions, museums, documentaries and science-specific magazines as more accurate.

More than 80 percent of those who follow science news cited curiosity as their prime motivating factor. Other reasons cited by respondents for following science news was that the information helps them make decisions in their everyday lives, and that they enjoy talking about science with others.

There is also a family connection—many of the respondents who were parents said that they sought out science news due to the activities and interests of their children.

When it comes to the coverage of science itself, some respondents criticized science journalists for too much emphasis on “gee-whiz” writing that doesn’t do enough to explain the relevance of the science for the average person, or assess the quality of the research.

Some 44% of survey respondents said it was a “big problem” that the public doesn’t know enough about science to understand research findings in the news. A similar number of respondents said that with so many studies being published, it can be difficult to distinguish between high and low quality work.

Finding Meaning in the Results

So what does that mean for researchers and the research communications team at Massachusetts General Hospital?

We have an opportunity to be a trusted and accessible voice for science. We can take a hard look at the way we communicate our findings to see if we are using too much jargon, failing to explain key concepts or not taking the time to explain how our work could impact human health down the road—even if the potential benefits are a long way off.

In an era where hot button issues such as climate change and childhood vaccinations have scientists facing an increasing level of scrutiny, it’s important that we continuously work on improving our communication skills.

Communicating Science at Mass General

Through the Office of the Scientific Director, the Mass General Research Institute has launched several programs designed to improve the way our researchers talk about science.

We have organized communicating science competitions at HUBweek and the Cambridge Science Festival, and hosted workshops on science communication in conjunction with the Alan Alda Center For Science Communication.

We also share tips on communicating science on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Science is a complex and ever-changing field. Each new advance, from personalized medicine to CRISPR gene editing, creates a new set of terminology that might make perfect sense to the research community, but is totally unknown to the general public.

By challenging ourselves to be better communicators, we can advocate for the importance of medical research and its potential to improve the lives of patients, both here at Mass General and across the globe.

The Research Institute:
Saving Lives Through Science
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The Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute is the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with a community of over 10,000 people working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments.Our researchers work side-by-side with physicians to pioneer the latest scientific advancements for curing disease and healing patients in Boston, across the United States and around the world.To learn more about the Research Institute, please visit our website.

Lady Gaga’s Diagnosis Helps Shed Light on a Perplexing Chronic Pain Disorder

Despite her celebrity status, Lady Gaga has been remarkably honest and open about her struggles with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. The star announced her diagnosis on social media earlier this month, and just recently canceled tour dates due to disorder-related complications.

Fibromyalgia has traditionally been a challenge to diagnose and treat, because there is no test for it. Doctors make the diagnosis based on patient reported symptoms. Researchers at Mass General are hoping to change that by using imaging techniques to demonstrate brain changes in fibromyalgia patients and investigating potential causes for the disease.

What is fibromyalgia and what are the symptoms?

Fibromyalgia is a common chronic pain disorder that can be extremely debilitating. The disorder is characterized by widespread pain, accompanied with un-refreshing sleep, fatigue, memory and cognitive problems, sensitivity to temperatures, light, and sound, and headaches. It can also co-exist with other conditions including depression, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome.

These symptoms severely impact the 5-10 million Americans living with this disorder. The pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia can make it difficult to maintain work and social obligations. Symptoms also come in waves at seemingly random intervals, which can blindside individuals.

What causes fibromyalgia?

It’s thought that disturbances in the central nervous system affect the way the brain processes pain signals, which amplifies the painful sensations that fibromyalgia patients experience. But why these disturbances occur remains a mystery.

Experts suggest that the disorder could be driven by several factors, including physical or emotional trauma, prior illness or infection, and genetics. Women are also more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men, though researchers don’t know why.

In an effort to find answers to these questions, Marco Loggia, PhD, Associate Director of the Center for Integrative Pain NeuroImaging and a researcher in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, studies the brain mechanisms of pain in patients with fibromyalgia. His research suggests that some degree of brain inflammation may be at play, given that brain inflammation is common among chronic back pain sufferers and most fibromyalgia patients suffer from chronic back pain.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. As a result, the focus of treatment is on managing pain and improving quality of life for patients. However, patients often struggle to find the right combination of treatments to manage their condition.

Clinicians often recommend medications including pain relievers, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs to reduce pain and improve sleep. Some patients also utilize therapies such as physical therapy or counseling and alternative treatments like massage therapy, yoga or acupuncture.

Is there stigma associated with fibromyalgia?

Because there are no lab tests to diagnose fibromyalgia, patients are frequently met with skepticism, even by their own primary care team. The pain they report is often dismissed as being “all in their head.”

In a recent interview with HealthDay News, Loggia said, “Many studies—and particularly those using brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging—have now provided substantial support to the notion that the excessive sensitivity to pain that these patients demonstrate is genuine. I think that it is time to stop dismissing these patients.”

With celebrities like Lady Gaga raising awareness of this disease and researchers like Loggia investigating its causes and progression, could individuals suffering from fibromyalgia soon see advances in treatment and care—as well as more public understanding of this debilitating disorder?

To read more on this topic:

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:

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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.”

GatchelJennifer 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.”

Hata.jpgAaron 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.”

LiangSteven 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.”

Pittet.jpgMikael 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!”

SippoDorothy 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.”

Six Selfish Reasons to Communicate Science

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The Union of Concerned Scientists blog recently published a post discussing ways in which communicating science can benefit the scientist. Here are a few of our takeaways from this great article:

  1. Engaging in science communication helps to hone your communication skills, so you can nail that job interview or research proposal
  2. It’s a great way to develop expertise in your subject area—a broad familiarity with the field, what others are doing in it,
  3. It can help you draw connections between disparate subjects and help you discover new avenues for your research
  4. It can help you gain exposure – a recent study showed that using social media can increase your scientific impact, and that media coverage of papers can lead to more citations.
  5. It can help you network with other scientists and learn about new opportunities.
  6. The support and enthusiasm you receive by engaging with the scientific community can keep you motivated during challenges and setbacks.

You can read the full article here.

How else can scientists benefit from talking about their science in lay-friendly terms? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Mass General Earns High Marks From U.S. News & World Report

Earlier this week US News & World Report announced its Best Hospitals rankings for 2017-18. We are proud to announce that Massachusetts General Hospital has once again been named among America’s Top Hospitals, earning the number four spot on the honor roll of best hospitals.

Mass General was also among the top hospitals in the country to be ranked across all 16 specialties. The hospital scored in the top ten in ear nose and throat, cardiology and heart surgery, diabetes and endocrinology, gastroenterology and GI surgery, geriatrics, nephrology, neurology and neurosurgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics, psychiatry, pulmonary, rehabilitation and rheumatology.

Of the nearly 5,000 hospitals evaluated, Mass General has consistently placed among the top hospitals on the honor roll since its inception in 1990.

Complete information about this year’s Best Hospitals survey can be found on the US News & World Report website.

 

Overcoming the “Curse of Knowledge” To Effectively Communicate Your Science

Gene Kinney, PhD, president and CEO of Prothena, a global biotechnology company, published a great article in Xconomy earlier this year about the importance of communicating science.

He says researchers need be strategic about how they talk about their work in order to enhance the public’s understanding of science and its impact on society. Using jargon-free language and developing a compelling narrative can help engage an audience and explain the science.

But Kinney acknowledges this is easier said than done. A little thing called the “curse of knowledge” can hurt a scientist’s ability to communicate with those who don’t share their baseline of expertise. Researchers need to cope with the curse and understand that buzzwords within their given field like “novel target” and “in vitro” hold little to no meaning to outsiders. Kinney emphasizes the importance of overcoming this bias and shifting assumptions about an audience’s knowledge base in order to improve scientific literacy.

Overall, scientists must begin to see themselves not only as researchers but also as communicators.

You can read the full article here.

More Than Just a Pastime: How Video Games Change Your Brain

Editor’s Note: This summer we have two communications interns working with us to write stories about research at the hospital and their experiences being part of the hospital community. This is a post by our intern Shika Lakshman, a student at Emerson College .

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Video games. We all play them, whether it’s Candy Crush on the way to work, or hours-long sessions of Call of Duty.

So when I recently read an article about a new research study detailing the positive and negative effects of playing video games, I decided to follow up. According to the lead author of the study, Marc Palaus, “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity”.

Paulus and a team of researchers from Catalonia University and Massachusetts General Hospital recently conducted an assessment of research studies looking at how brains change as a result of playing video games.

What did they find? Video games can change how you pay attention, improving sustained and selective attentions. It also means that the areas in the brain responsible for attention need less stimuli to activate. Additionally, video games can physically  change the structure of your brain, making the parts of your brain responsible for visuospatial skills bigger and more efficient.

So, video games make it easier for gamers to focus on specific stimuli (like games) for longer periods of time, while also allowing for better recognition of shapes, from faces to cars to trees. That’s the good part.

However, as you’ve probably heard, video games can also be addictive. It’s not just something your mom said to get you to do your homework, it’s called “internet gaming disorder”. It mostly affects men, ages 12-20, and primarily in Asia.

Addictive disorders can also cause structural changes to the brain, and gaming addictions are no different. The neural rewards system in your brain can be affected by “cravings” stemming from video games, and researchers say they are the same changes that other addictions cause.

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What does the research tell us? From what I can gather, most video game studies are slanted towards reinforcing the idea that “video games are bad, they cause violence, antisocial behavior, etc.”

I wanted to get a more balanced opinion. So, I did what anyone my age would do: I posted on Facebook, and hoped for responses. I made a survey, asking people about their opinions on video games and some of the study results, and most responded positively.

A few respondents said video games helped them learn English. Many said it allowed them to make friends, and others said it helped with anxiety, stress and their mental wellbeing. Overall, people weren’t entirely shocked to learn that video games can physically change your brain, although they did think the positive effects of outweigh the negative ones. In fact, one respondent actually credited video games with healing a brain injury, “I have a brain injury that affects my coordination. Playing video games has helped me to regain back some of the hand-eye coordination that I feel like I lost.”

One respondent summed it up nicely. “As with anything, moderation is key. Sure, too much time in games stunts our social growth and tricks our brains into thinking we’ve accomplished things. But a moderate amount of time enjoying a favorite game and socializing with friends isn’t a negative thing”.

Here is the poll I used, thought it might be useful so people can see exactly what I asked: https://goo.gl/forms/sETvFUldAjZIPEKO2

What is your name? *

How old are you? *

What age did you start playing video games? *

How would you characterize your video game use? *

1 casual (mostly on your commute, only on your phone, etc.)

2

3

4

5 professional (you play/have played in competitions and/or earn money for playing)

Have you noticed any changes since you started playing video games, such as a change in attention span? *

How many hours a week do you spend playing video games? *

1-5

6-10

11-20

21+

If you selected 21+ above, please estimate the number of hours each week.

Would you be surprised if video games were physically changing your brain? *

Yes

No

Do you think there are more positive or negative effects of video games? *

Positive

Negative

They balance out

Any final thoughts on the effects of video games?

Research Awards and Honors: July 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:

brownDennis 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.”

 

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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.”

 

khera.jpgAmit 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.”

 

mullenAlan 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.”

 

schwabJoseph 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.”