Mass General Researcher Receives Fellowship for Developing Color-Changing Bandage

Haley Marks, PhD

Haley Marks, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital Wellman Center for Photomedicine, recently received the inaugural SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship in Problem-Driven Biophotonics and Biomedical Optics.

We asked her about her research and how this fellowship will benefit her work:

What problem(s) are you addressing with your research?

My research is focused on the development of a new type of advanced bandage that will both monitor the skin’s response to injury and enable the direct on-demand release of drugs. Tissue oxygenation is an important factor in wound healing; oxygen is actively metabolized to power the healing process. Inadequate oxygen supply can lead to slow healing wounds, infection, and even amputation.  Current bandages and dressings require multiple clinic visits for physicians to assess wound healing progress, and the required frequent dressing changes can be painful and lead to unintended wound infections. Our lab is currently developing a color-changing dressing to visually alert clinicians of the tissue’s physiologic state with the hope of reducing unnecessary discomfort to patients, minimizing the time and materials spent on redressing, and potentially facilitating drug delivery in response to the wound bed environment.

What methods are you using?

For years, a sensor called the fingertip pulse oximeter has been the gold standard for clinical oximetry. These sensors are not only an indirect measure of oxygenation, but also require placement onto a transparent region of the body, occlude the area from the clinician’s view, or need to be wired to external hardware for signal interpretation.

In contrast, our oxygen sensor is in the form of a paintable liquid bandage, so it is not only wireless, but also completely transparent once it dries onto the surface of the skin. Additionally, the oxygen-sensitive color change can be seen by the naked eye or quantified into oxygen concentration values by collecting an image using cameras or smartphones.

What results have you found thus far and what are the implications for clinical care?

Currently our oxygen-sensing bandage has been validated in humans for several sectors of clinical care. Our first and longest running study so far compares our bandage in a head-to-head comparison with traditional oximeters. This project is run under the direction of plastic surgeon Dr. Samuel Lin at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and involves 48-hour monitoring of women who have undergone breast reconstructive surgery following mastectomy.

Another exciting opportunity this year is a collaboration with dermatology clinical researchers at the Mass General Wellman Center for Photomedicine to assess the bandages’ potential as a diagnostic tool for bacterial skin infections such as cellulitis. The goal of this study is to determine if the detection and quantification of tissue oxygenation parameters can aid in the differentiation of infectious causes of inflammation from non-infectious ones.

Last, our largest ongoing study so far has just kicked off at the Mass General Translational and Clinical Research Center, sponsored by a gift from Procter & Gamble, and is recruiting healthy volunteers for a study to assess any intrinsic skin oxygenation differences due to long term sun exposure.

How will this fellowship help advance your research?

The purpose of the SPIE Franz Hillenkamp is to provide postdoctoral researchers working in the field of translational biophotonics with independent funding to investigate a new, clinically motivated, technologies. My research proposal incorporates our existing oxygen-sensing chemistry into a biocompatible dressing that is better suited for open and oozing wounds. As a member of the Wellman Center, I will also have the benefit of co-mentorship under this grant from both Dr. Conor Evans, for research, and Dr. Gabriela Apiou, for translational sciences, and our lab’s ongoing clinical trials allow me to receive critical feedback from the end users themselves: the physicians surrounding us here at MGH.

Celebrating Women in Science and Medicine: Interview with Daphne Holt

During the month of March, Massachusetts General Hospital is celebrating Women’s History Month by highlighting our outstanding women scientists, physicians and staff members. In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing a few of their profiles, and be sure to visit the women’s history month landing page to see the full series.

Holt-Q&A-profileDaphne Holt, MD, PhD
Co-Director, Schizophrenia Clinical and Research Program, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital
Investigator, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
Associate Professor of Psychiatry,
Harvard Medical School

Dr. Holt is using brain imaging technology to learn more about how individuals with schizophrenia process and respond to perceived intrusions into their personal space.

Abnormalities in this type of basic behavior, and other, related forms of non-verbal social communication, have been linked to some of the most disabling symptoms of schizophrenia, such as the social withdrawal that occurs early and is often persistent despite conventional treatment.

Her goal is to create new screening tools that could help to identify these symptoms earlier, when they first emerge, and to guide the development of new treatment strategies that address these processing differences and symptoms.

She was a 2014 winner of a Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award. The Claflin Awards were established by the hospital to support women researchers as they balance the dual demands of career and family

What is special about Mass General?

I have always found Mass General to be a really exciting place, because it is possible to do so much really interesting and innovative work in both the research and clinical domains. At the same time, Mass General also maintains some of the feeling of a small community, in part because so many faculty trained here and stayed on.

There is a sense of continuity and history with the people and the institution as a whole, as well as a strong push towards growth and progress.

What do you like most about your job?

I like working with smart, collaborative people who know things I don’t know (both faculty and trainees) – we get to come up with new ideas together and then see them implemented pretty quickly in research or clinical practice.

In the research part of my job, I feel very lucky that I get to ask questions about how the brain works (or doesn’t), find some tentative answers in our data, and then I have the job of trying to understand those answers and explain them to other people, which can be both interesting and challenging.

What advice would you give to women entering the field of medicine and/or healthcare?

I would advise anyone (not just women) to try to be as persistent and resilient in the face of challenges as you can, to maintain a consistent belief in what you want to do and what seems important to you to accomplish. Of course this is easier said than done, but this is a skill that can be learned to some extent.

At the same time, it’s also important to have the ability to receive feedback and be flexible while continuing to move forward – to be able adjust to unexpected barriers as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

Advice that might be more frequently applicable to women, who are sometimes particularly anxious to please others: While it is important to be collaborative and a “team player” in many situations, at the same time, try to keep an eye on your own long term goals. In fact, it is often the case (people don’t always realize) that the successful pursuit of your own goals can be synergistic with and beneficial to the goals of the larger group.

Has there been an influential woman in your life who supported or inspired you on your journey into health care/medicine?

My mother was an extraordinary woman who was a great role model for me. She was an atomic physicist at a time when there were very few women in that field. She always instilled in me the sense that I could do anything I wanted to do.

Although she faced not-so-subtle barriers as a woman in science (in the 1950s and 60s), her deep, very obvious and consistent passion for her work inspired me to follow a similar path.

How can we encourage more women and girls to enter the sciences?

We can expose girls early to the fun parts of science and to happy and confident female scientists. We can also try to dispel certain beliefs and stereotypes about what a scientist is supposed to be like, and what makes a good scientist, highlighting that there is diversity within science in terms of the talents and skills that are valuable to have.

Daphne Holt

Weekend Links

Photo courtesy of The Fader

We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Inside The Race for a Celiac Disease Treatment –  For a majority of those with celiac disease for whom adhering to a gluten-free diet is not enough, there is good news: the scientific community is aware of this issue and help is coming. The question is how soon. (featuring research by Mass General investigator Alessio Fasano)

When Doctors Need New Medical Tools, These Students Are Up To the Challenge – Medical device design courses are more than just good education. Read how Mass General cardiologist Maulik Majmudar challenged MIT’s medical device design class to come up with an alternative solution to an elaborate and expensive cardiology exam.

Stephen Hawking Dies at 76; His Mind Roamed the Cosmos – “Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,” said Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York.

Earth Angels – Six young scientists explain the work they’re doing to take care of our planet, from studying tigers to chasing storms.

Scientists trick the brain into sensing the movement of a prosthetic – Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have created a new technology to trick the brain into thinking it can sense a prosthetic limb moving, just like it might sense an actual muscle moving.

This Is Where Your Childhood Memories Went – In the last few years, scientists have finally started to unravel precisely what is happening in the brain around the time that we forsake recollection of our earliest years. This new science suggests that as a necessary part of the passage into adulthood, the brain must let go of much of our childhood.


Postdoc Profile: Nabi M. Nurunnabi, PhD


Md “Nabi” Nurunnabi, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Systems Biology (CSB) and the Cardiovascular Research Center (CVRC). He is also Chair of MGH Postdoc Association (MGPA).

He is biomedical scientist with education and training in both academia and industry as pharmacist, chemist, and bioengineer. He is working on the design and development of target-specific therapeutic approaches for various diseases such as cancer, diabetes, fibrosis, and cardiovascular (stroke and myocardial infarction) along with immunology.

He is working in Jason McCarthy’s group in the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

This interview was conducted by Mojtaba Moharrer, PhD, a communications intern with the Mass General Research Institute.

What is your field of research?

We call our field of research nanomedicine. We use nanotechnology, or a nanoengineering approach, to design and develop targeted therapeutic delivery systems.

In most cases, the conventional method of therapeutic delivery (such as administering a drug orally or intravenously) is not targeted. As a result, the therapeutic molecule is randomly distributed throughout the body by the circulatory system and can localize in any part of the body—not necessarily where you want it to.

This can both increase the cost of treatment and the potential for toxicity, because you have to give the patient a higher dose to get required therapeutic effect.

Our approach is to actively direct the therapeutics (small molecules or large biologics) to specific target sites in the body. We also tag therapeutics with imaging agents so we can detect and monitor the location of the therapeutics after administration.

We are also using nanotechnology for disease detection and diagnosis. Early detection and diagnosis helps to reduce treatment costs and increase survival rates, especially with a disease like cancer.

What research projects are you working on?

On the diagnostic side, I have been working to develop a single nano-probe for non-invasively detecting cancer at earlier stages than traditional screening and diagnostic tools.

For targeted therapeutics, I have been searching for convenient and unique materials that will be stable, ultra-small (within few nanometers), biocompatible and cost-effective.

Part of my goal is to translate the small or large molecular therapeutics for oral delivery, as the oral dosage form has a large market that is of great interest to biopharmaceutical companies.

In this regard, I have developed a platform technology that is highly feasible for oral delivery of anticancer drugs. I have also developed technology that can be used for oral delivery of large molecules such as Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 (GLP-1) and antigen (PR8), which are highly effective for diabetes therapy and immunology, respectively. Both technologies have been patented and have generated interest from industry.

The advantages of these delivery systems is that they shield the therapeutics and protect them from harsh environment of stomach, enhance absorption through small intestinal membrane and deliver the therapeutic to the site of action.

They are also helpful for controlling the release profile of the therapeutics to reduce dosage frequency.

My current research focuses on imaging and treatment of cardiovascular disease and fibrosis. Fibrosis is a disease caused by cell inflammation, which results in the formation of collagen (also known as fibrin) on the extracellular matrix.

Chemotherapy treatments can trigger fibrosis in the cells that line the blood vessels and coronary arteries. Secretions of excess collagen from these cells can cause a complete or partial blockage of the vessel or artery, which can in turn cause hypertension and/or cardiac arrest.

We are trying to develop a nano-probe composed of therapeutic molecule, targeting peptide, and imaging contrast agent for simultaneous diagnosis and treatment of the fibrosis.

We are also developing a particulate tissue plasminogen delivery system that is designed to target and bind to the blood clot and destroy it in vivo. This approach could help prevent the hemorrhaging and nonspecific toxicity that can result from conventional plasminogen-mediated stroke therapy.

What are your hobbies outside of the lab?

I would say reading. I try to read everything that interests me, not just academic books or research articles. I like to spend the rest of my time with family, visiting zoos and gardens or walking together. I really enjoy chatting with friends and colleagues. I try not to miss any opportunity to make new friends. Who knows? Anyone that I meet could be a potential research collaborator in the future.

I always carry the book “The Magic of Thinking Big” with me and have been reading it again and again since 2013. I read couple of pages when I feel a lack of motivation or inspiration.

What have been the most valuable academic and non-academic lessons you learned during your postdoctoral fellowship?

Academic lesson: Actively seek out collaborators who have expertise in areas that you don’t. Non-academic lesson: Be expressive, open for networking and idea sharing.

Science Fair Inspires

When Jovanny Joseph, an eighth-grader at Timilty Middle School, told his mentor Jamie Heather, PhD, a researcher in the Cobbold Lab in the MGH Cancer Center, that he planned to create his own Tesla coil for the school’s annual science fair Feb. 6, Heather was impressed.

“I’m from the U.K. where we don’t really have science fairs,” says Heather. “All of the American movies I’ve seen led me to believe that the room would be filled with erupting volcano models, so I was shocked when my mentee told me his plan to test the electric field of a Tesla coil. When I volunteered to judge, I hadn’t seen the finished product so I was excited to see if it worked – and it did!”

Science fair judges Karen Valdes and Kayla Robinson

Heather became a mentor to Joseph through the MGH’s long-standing partnership with Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. Every other Friday, the students visited their MGH mentors to work on their science fair projects, develop their hypotheses, discuss research strategies and put their presentations together.

More than 60 MGHers volunteered to judge the science fair this year, and 13 of the Timilty students in the MGH mentoring program have been selected to present their projects at the Boston citywide fair.

“It’s wonderful to see kids get excited about science, especially girls,” says Katia Canenguez, PhD, clinical fellow in Psychiatry. After reviewing the work of three eighth-grade girls, she said, “Their project documentationwas beautiful and they were so proud of their work. I hope they are inspired to fall in love with science just like I did at a young age.”

022318 Timilty Schrenker.jpg
Timilty student Djenie-Kha Edouard with Schrenker

Rick Schrenker, systems engineering manager in Biomedical Engineering, is a veteran science fair judge. He began volunteering as a judge more than 20 years ago, then took a break and returned to the science fair last year re-inspired. “Each year the kids are bright-eyed and care a lot about the work they have done,” he says. “Every once in a while a student says, ‘I didn’t get what I expected,’ and that takes a lot of courage. That’s what science is. They didn’t go back and change their hypotheses just to be proven right and that’s brave to admit.”


This article originally appeared in Mass General’s Hotline newsletter

Could the Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep Be Found in Our Genes?


It’s the night before a big meeting at work—or a race you’ve been training months for—and you want to do everything you can to get the next day off to a great start. How much sleep do you need to be at your best?

Jacqueline Lane, PhD

For years, the magic number for a good night’s sleep has been eight hours. While this is a good general guideline, the real answer is more complicated, says Jacqueline Lane, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher studying the genetics of sleep at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Research has shown that the amount of sleep we need varies between individuals and can depend on activity level, Lane says. Relatives from the same family also tend to have similar sleep needs, suggesting sleep habits can be influenced by our genetics. There are some families who can get by on just six hours of sleep, while others will feel foggy and have trouble concentrating if they don’t get at least eight hours.

“Obviously, there is something about the biology [between these two groups] that is different. Can we look inside their genome and find that biological difference, and understand how it is influencing their ability to sleep less without the negative consequences?”

The genetics of sleep

Lane is hoping to identify the genes responsible for sleep by comparing the genomes of individuals with sleep disorders to those who sleep normally. She explains that 99.9% of human genomes are similar, and that the diversity between people all stems from the remaining 0.1%.

By looking for changes in this small portion of the genome that varies between people, Lane may be able to identify genetic clues that help to define our sleep needs and contribute to sleep disorders such as insomnia.

“If my genome is very different at one spot compared to yours, and I have sleep trouble—and everyone who has sleep trouble has the same difference that I do—then maybe that that spot relates to how we sleep.”

The genomic data for this study has been drawn from the 500,000 participants enrolled in the UK Biobank, who have provided DNA samples and answered questions about a variety of health-related topics, including their sleep patterns. Having such a vast array of data to analyze is “a real game changer,” Lane says.

Lane’s research so far has helped to identify the area of the genome that is associated with sleep, though more work has to be done to narrow down to specific genes, and to figure out how these genes work to affect sleep behaviors.

The health implications of sleep disorders

While individual sleep needs may vary, sleep disorders such as insomnia are real and can have a significant impact on an individual’s health and quality of life, Lane says.

“We are finding that insomnia is clearly a disorder. People with insomnia have increased risk of psychiatric and metabolic disorders, and their overall life expectancy is shorter.”

If researchers are able to learn more about how the genetics of sleep impact the development of psychiatric and neurological disorders—and vice versa—they may be able to develop new prevention and treatment strategies that stem from improving sleep habits.

“People have known there is some link between psychiatric and sleep disorders, but the real question is determining the nature of that link,” Lane says. “If I can get somebody to go from sleeping six hours at night to eight hours, will that prevent them from developing depression or schizophrenia?”

Making your sleep patterns work for you

While it is not necessarily a bad thing to be genetically wired for less sleep than others, it can require some lifestyle adjustments, particularly if you live with others who need more sleep at night.

Lane recalls the story of one woman who only needed five hours of sleep each night. After the woman had children, she found that she was good at getting up and taking care of them at night because she did not need much sleep.

The woman then started fostering infants who were born to drug-addicted parents and needed a lot of attention and snuggling throughout the night.

“I think this reminds us that sometimes we think about things as a disorder, but it is all about the way you look at it,” Lane says. “She sees it as a gift, and can use it that way.”

Macrophages Found to be the Source of a Ripple Effect in the Development of a Life-Threatening Heart Condition

ripple effect.jpg

A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine from the Nahrendorf lab in the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital shows a classic real-life example of the ripple effect.

Like a pebble thrown into a still body of water, immune cells called macrophages – white blood cells primarily known for removing cellular debris, pathogens and other unwanted materials – cause a series of responses in the heart that can eventually compromise the organ’s ability to provide enough oxygenated blood to the body.

These new findings advance understanding of macrophages’ role in the development of a type of heart condition known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or HFpEF, and provide new insight into how to prevent development of this life-threatening disease.

What is HFpEF?

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. The volume of blood pumped by the heart is determined by two factors:

  1. Contraction of the heart, which sends blood to the rest of the body, and
  2. Relaxation of the heart, which allows it to fill with blood

In the case of HFpEF, the heart contracts normally but is unable to relax and allow blood to flow into the left ventricle, thus reducing the amount of blood available to pump into the aorta.

The hearts of patients with HFpEF pump a limited amount of blood with each beat which can result in symptoms like decreased exercise tolerance, fatigue, and the accumulation of blood/fluid in the lungs, veins and tissues of the body. Fluid backs up into these areas because the heart is not able to process fluids effectively. The buildup of fluid in the lungs can result in shortness of breath while fluid in the legs causes swelling.

HFpEF accounts for around half of all human heart failure cases and has a high mortality rate — the 5-year survival of HFpEF is 35%, which is worse than most cancers.

Because HFpEF is difficult to treat and carries a poor prognosis once patients start showing symptoms, preventing HFpEF and limiting disease progression is critical.

Macrophages in the heart

Macrophages play an important role in normal cardiac function. Recent research from the Nahrendorf lab found that these white blood cells help heart muscle cells maintain a steady heartbeat.

Macrophages can also be found in high numbers around inflamed or diseased hearts to help heal tissue. They are given a helping hand by cells called fibroblasts, which generate connective tissue and collagen to help repair and remodel cardiac tissue.

However, too many fibroblasts can do more harm than good, at least when it comes to heart repair. An overabundance of fibroblasts can cause the tissue to stiffen and reduce the heart’s ability to relax and refill properly. For that reason, fibroblasts are considered a major contributor to the development of HFpEF.

Despite this known role for fibroblasts, it has remained unclear if and how macrophages are involved in the development of HFpEF.

Discovery of a ripple effect

In their most recent study, a research team from the Nahrendorf lab led by Maarten Hulsmans, PhD, a research fellow in the Center for Systems Biology, sought to further define macrophages’ role in the hopes of identifying a new therapeutic target to prevent HFpEF.

The team examined cardiac macrophages in two mouse models that had developed a similar impaired relaxation of the heart muscle as seen in human patients with HFpEF. They discovered a ripple effect that stemmed from an increased number of macrophages in the mice’s left ventricles.

These macrophages had elevated levels of an anti-inflammatory agent called IL-10, which was activating a surplus of fibroblasts and stimulating an overproduction of collagen, both of which led to increased stiffness and impaired heart relaxation.

Tissue biopsies from human patients with HFpEF also had increased levels of cardiac macrophages and circulating monocytes, which are precursors of macrophages, suggesting that the same ripple effect is occurring in humans as well.

The researchers discovered that removing IL-10 in macrophages in one mouse model reduced the numbers and activation of cardiac fibroblasts, and improved the heart’s ability to relax. If researchers can develop a drug that can limit the production of IL-10 in macrophages, they may be able to subsequently reduce the activation of fibroblasts and reduce the chances of patients developing HFpEF.

“These findings put macrophages on the map when it comes to HFpEF therapy and open up previously unexplored treatment options,” says Hulsmans. “Our identification of the central involvement of macrophages should give us a new focus for drug development,” added Matthias Nahrendorf, MD, PhD, Weissman Family MGH Research Scholar, investigator in the Center for Systems Biology and senior author of this study.

Pediatrician Engages Communities to Make a Lasting Impact on Child Health

Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH

Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar

Chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children

Executive Director of the Kraft Center for Community Health

Imagine you are a pediatric clinician in an urban community health center. You notice that the majority of your patients have the same triad of conditions – obesity, asthma and behavioral health problems.

You can encourage your patients to lose weight, prescribe asthma medication or connect them with psychiatric services, all of which may help the symptoms, but not the root cause. What can you do in the short time you have with each patient to address the determinants of these conditions?

This is the question Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and Executive Director of the Kraft Center for Community Health, confronted while completing her pediatric residency in a Boston clinic serving inner-city youth.

“I started realizing that, although much of my work was providing one-on-one patient care for these conditions, so many of the determinants of the health and well-being of the children I cared for had more to do with their social and environmental conditions and not their clinical care,” says Taveras.

These experiences guided her decision to focus on a combination of clinical and community-based research approaches to address the causes of childhood health problems and reduce health disparities. While working in community settings presents a unique set of challenges, Taveras says the relationships that she has built and the potential to have a long-term impact make the work incredibly rewarding.

Engaging Diverse Stakeholders

Taveras has found that conducting research within a community requires an understanding of context and who the stakeholders are, what matters most to them, and the best ways to engage them in the research process.

“In the same way that we wouldn’t build a home without a blueprint from an architect, you can’t design an intervention for families without families’ voices to inform the work,” says Taveras.

Other stakeholders can range from youth-based organizations and public health practitioners to school administrators and representatives from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). These stakeholders are an integral part of their communities and understand the barriers to proper health and health care.

Mass General’s Focus on Community Research

At a local level, Taveras is encouraged to see how the hospital has elevated community health as a key component of its mission under the leadership of President Peter L. Slavin, MD. Mass General is one of the few academic medical centers in the country to incorporate a commitment to the community in its mission statement.

“I’m thrilled by Mass General’s national leadership in community health and the opportunity to serve disadvantaged populations through the Kraft Center,” says Taveras. “I’m optimistic about the changes that I’ve seen and how that reflects our institutional support for community health.”

Between Taveras’ individual efforts and those of Mass General and the Kraft Center, they may be able to address the root causes of health issues in the urban communities in Massachusetts—and extrapolate those results to other communities nationally.

“Tremendous inequities in health exist, largely attributable to poor access to high quality care as well as social and economic factors that are distributed unevenly based on income, race and ethnicity,” says Taveras. “We can transform the health of children and their families by increasing access to care, investing in bold new solutions that improve social and environmental conditions, and supporting the training of clinicians and researchers who want to improve outcomes for medically underserved communities.”

Weekend Links

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We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

A Painful Bruise Wouldn’t Heal. It Took Several Hospital Visits to Discover Why. – A 39 year old woman had been sick for months. She had seen many doctors and had been given a variety of diagnoses, but no one could tell her exactly what was wrong. Mass General physicians Vivek Naranbhai and Leigh Simmons put together a number of clues to find the answer.

Into the Depths – One measure of medicine’s progress is how far inside a living human body the physician can peer. Before X-rays and other imaging technologies, that job fell to ingenious devices and the naked eye. One of the most significant advances happened when a series of 19th-century innovations encountered the services of a professional sword swallower.

New ways scientists can help put science back into popular culture –  How can science integrate with the rest of human culture to intertwine with things like art, music, theater, film and even religion?

Scientists Aim To Pull Peer Review Out Of The 17th Century – The technology that drives science forward is forever accelerating, but the same can’t be said for science communication. The basic process still holds many vestiges from its early days — that is the 17th century. Some scientists are pressing to change that critical part of the scientific enterprise.

The continuing challenges for women in STEMM – Senior levels of science are male dominated, but work is underway to restore the balance

A Single Psychedelic Drug Trip Can Change Your Personality for Years – Researchers have found that individuals who took even a single dose of psychedelic drugs like LSD, “magic” mushrooms and ayahuasca could experience sustained personality changes that lasted several weeks, months or even years — but oftentimes, these changes were for the better.

 -top photo courtesy of Proto Magazine

Martinos Center Researcher Receives Award to Explore Anesthesia and Sleep

Researcher profile Lewis.pngThe Society for Neuroscience recently named Mass General researcher Laura Lewis, PhD, a recipient of the Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award. Supported by The Gruber Foundation, the award recognizes young neuroscientists for outstanding research and educational pursuit in an international setting and includes $25,000 for each recipient.

We asked Dr. Lewis, an investigator at the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, about her research and how this award will help advance her work.

What problem(s) are you addressing with your research?

My goal is to understand what happens in the brain during sleep and anesthesia. Sleep is essential for healthy brain function, but we still know surprisingly little about how it works. Why do we become unconscious during sleep, and how is this different from losing consciousness during anesthesia? Why do we dream and why is our cognition impaired when we haven’t slept enough?

Ultimately, we’d like to answer these questions by studying the human brain. However, noninvasively measuring human brain activity is very challenging, so I also work on developing new techniques for imaging and analyzing brain function.

What methods are you using?

I use a combination of methods. Most recently, I’ve been working on developing noninvasive imaging approaches that combine functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to measure human brain activity at high resolution. I’m collaborating with physicists and engineers to translate new, accelerated imaging methods into use for neuroscience. With these methods, we can scan people as they fall asleep inside the MRI and image small brain regions during sleep.

I also use intracranial electrocorticography (recordings from electrodes placed directly onto the surface of the brain during a surgery). These recordings are only obtained in patients who are receiving these electrodes for clinical reasons, such as epilepsy. They provide extremely high resolution recordings of the electrical activity of the human brain.

What results have you found thus far and what are the implications for clinical care?

Our anesthesia studies discovered a pattern of activity that appears at the moment people become unconscious. Networks of different brain regions begin to break down, so information can’t be transferred from one brain region to the next. Finding these signatures of unconsciousness can help both with monitoring patients under anesthesia, and with designing the next generation of anesthetic drugs.

Our imaging studies have recently shown that we can noninvasively measure neural activity throughout the whole brain much faster than previously thought: on timescales of hundreds of milliseconds. These imaging tools could be used for a broad range of neuroscience applications, as they enable fast, precise, and noninvasive measurements of brain activity.

Our sleep studies have discovered that activity in a specific brain region predicts transitions between sleep and wake – signaling the moment of awakening, or slow drifts into drowsiness. In the long term, I hope these studies will help inform clinical research of the diverse neurological and psychiatric conditions associated with sleep disturbances.

How will the Gruber International Award help advance your research?

I’m really honoured to have received the Gruber Award and I’m very grateful for the foundation’s support. My research is interdisciplinary, as it draws from many different areas and requires integrating many techniques, so the award is really beneficial for advancing this multidisciplinary research direction.