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.

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.

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.

Could Controlling Inflammation Improve Cystic Fibrosis Therapies?

Today, February 28th, is the 11th annual International Rare Disease Day. This is a day for every member of the rare disease community—patients, caregivers, and researchers—to join together on behalf of all of those suffering with a rare disease. In this blog post we highlight one Massachusetts General Hospital researcher who is tackling rare disease.

rare disease day flb.jpg

Fifty years ago, a cystic fibrosis (CF) diagnosis was like receiving a death sentence. Most children with CF did not live past the age of 10.

Thanks to heavy investment and advancements in medical research, children diagnosed with CF after the year 2000 are expected to live into their 50s. However, more research is needed to cure this disease, starting with a better understanding of the mechanisms that cause the infection and inflammation associated with CF.

Children born with this rare genetic disease experience a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs due to a lack of a chloride channel needed to hydrate mucus for effective transport through the body. The non-hydrated mucus clogs airways and traps bacteria, which can cause chronic lung infections and inflammation that eventually lead to permanent lung damage, respiratory failure and death.

Research from Bryan Hurley, PhD, principal investigator within the Mucosal Immunology & Biology Research Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and director of the MGHfC Digestive Disease Summer Research Program, focuses on infectious and inflammatory diseases, such as CF, that disrupt mucosal surfaces of the lung and digestive tract. He is investigating how targeting neutrophils—white blood cells that attack infections—could be the key to developing improved therapies for CF patients.

Hurley-LabBench.jpg Continue reading “Could Controlling Inflammation Improve Cystic Fibrosis Therapies?”

Research Awards and Honors: February 2018

February 2018 awards honors.pngMassachusetts 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:

Dania DayeDania Daye, MD, PhD, a resident in the Department of Radiology, has received a Trainee Research Prize from the Radiological Society of North America in the health services policy and research category, for her research “Point of care virtual radiology consultants in primary care: A new model for patient-centered radiology.”

“This award highlights the importance of the emerging research in patient-centered care models in radiology and will further promote my efforts in this field. I was very humbled to have been chosen to receive the award. It will certainly have a positive impact on my career trajectory moving forward.” 


Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD, program director for Breast Medical Oncology at the MGH Cancer Center and Weissman Family MGH Research Scholar, and Srinivas Vinod Saladi, PhD, instructor in the MGH Cancer Center, have received the Douglass Foundation Prize for Excellence in Hematology-Oncology Laboratory Research. This award honors their research published in the journal Cancer Cell. The award is given annually recognizing the excellent scientific publication from the cancer center. Pictured from left, Nicholas Dyson, PhD, scientific director of the MGH Cancer Center; Saladi and Ellisen

“We were truly honored to receive the Douglass Family Foundation award recognizing excellence in research at the MGH Cancer Center. As a clinician-scientist, it is very rewarding to be recognized for work that yields new insights into the basic biology of cancer. It is also humbling to be singled out among all my brilliant investigator colleagues in our Cancer Center for recognition. This award is a tribute to the hard work of the lab members, and it encourages us all to strive for excellence in scientific discovery and clinical application.”

Shyamala-Maheswaran.jpgShyamala Maheswaran, PhD, associate professor and scientific director of the MGH Center for Cancer Risk Assessment, has received an Outstanding Scientist Award from the American Association of Indian Scientists in Cancer Research (AAISCR). This award recognizes outstanding, novel and significant biomedical research which has led to important contributions to the fields of basic cancer research, translational cancer research, cancer diagnosis, prevention of cancer or treatment of cancer patients. The award will be presented at the AAISCR meeting in Chicago, Illinois on April 16.

“I feel honored and happy to receive the Outstanding Scientist Award from the American Association of Indian Scientists in Cancer Research.  Important contributions to a field are never possible without the effort of a talented research team. I have been very fortunate to work with remarkable scientists, postdoctoral fellows, students and research technicians, so this award belongs to all of us.  It gives me the impetus to continue to be more productive and answer critical questions that will make a difference in the field of basic and translational cancer research.” 


Raul Mostoslavsky, MD, PhD, The Laurel Schwartz Associate Professor in the MGH Cancer Center and The Kristine and Bob Higgins MGH Research Scholar, has received the Premio Raices (Roots Prize) from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Argentina. The prize recognizes Argentinian scientists abroad for their achievements and continued collaborations with scientists in Argentina.

“I was truly moved when I heard I received this award (and happy to know that my parents, who attended the award ceremony, will be proud!). We, as scientists, work tirelessly for the sake of understanding nature, for the possibility of discovery something new, with the hope that one day, one of these discoveries may benefit a patient. Not for awards. But receiving a recognition like this made me feel that I’m contributing my grain of sand to advance science, that I may be doing something right, and for this I was both flattered and thankful.”

Sabrina Paganoni.jpgSabrina Paganoni, MD, PhD, of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, has received the 2017 Clinician Scientist Development Three-Year Award in ALS sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation. Paganoni is nationally recognized as a leader in cutting-edge research in ALS. Throughout the past three years, she has obtained funding to conduct four Phase 2 clinical trials for ALS. These trials include promising biomarkers to measure target engagement of various compounds in patients with ALS.

“This Career Development Award comes at a critical time in my career when I am starting new projects, generating data, and applying for funding to become an established investigator with expertise in ALS clinical research. This award will allow me to dedicate the next few years to ALS clinical trials, while still continuing to see ALS patients in the clinic.”

Using Zebrafish Models to Study Cardiovascular Disease

Maryline-squareprofile.jpgMaryline Abrial, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Burns Lab at the Cardiovascular Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. She took part in a science communication internship at the Mass General Research Institute this fall. She wrote this first-person account of her life as a researcher as part of her internship.

Background and Education

I think what drew me to the biological sciences was a passionate high school biology teacher, who was great mentor and advisor over the years of my undergraduate and graduate training.

I have always found biological processes fascinating. The complexity of them can be very challenging, but understanding and deciphering even a small part feels very rewarding when you can impact human diseases.

Since I started my graduate studies in France in University Claude Bernard in Lyon, I have focused on cardiovascular science. During my PhD, I studied myocardial infarction, which is more commonly known as a heart attack.

My work focused on understanding cellular interactions and especially how non-contractile cell types can help to protect the cells in charge of contraction after an injury such as a heart attack.

After my PhD, I decided to pursue my work in the field of cardiovascular sciences in the exciting scientific environment that Boston offers. I joined the laboratory of Dr. Caroline Burns and Dr. Geoffrey Burns in the Cardiovascular Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The zebrafish as a model organism

The Burns laboratory studies heart development and regeneration in a particular animal model—the zebrafish.

Unlike humans, zebrafish can regenerate new cardiac tissue after an injury such as a heart attack, which makes them a great model to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in cardiac regeneration.

The zebrafish is also a powerful vertebrate model to study cardiovascular developmental biology because of its rapid external development, the large number of eggs that can be obtained and, more importantly, its beating developing heart that can be observed only 24 hours after fertilization of the egg.

While the zebrafish heart, which is comprised of a single ventricle and atria, is a simpler version of the human heart, the mechanisms regulating its development share much in common.

Investigating aortic arch development

After joining the Burns lab, I slowly became familiarized with zebrafish, and all the genetic tools and imaging techniques that make them such an attractive research model.

I worked closely with a senior research fellow who was studying the development of the great arteries of the heart (also named Pharyngeal Arch Arteries, or PAAs) during embryonic development.

In humans, the PAAs start off symetrically, but then undergo intensive remodeling before taking their final asymetrical shape. Impaired remodeling of those PAAs during development can lead to congenital heart diseases such as Tetralogy of Fallot.

This remodeling process is similar throughout vertebrates, and the zebrafish is a great model organism to visualize and study the cellular progenitors that give rise to these specific arteries.

Using the zebrafish to perform small molecule screening, we uncovered a specific signaling pathway that is involved in the differentiation of great arteries’ cellular progenitors. Using genome-editing technologies, we engineered zebrafish lacking the function of two genes that are involved in this pathway.

Surprisingly, we found that those zebrafish embryos presented a phenotype similar to a human disease called Marfan Syndrome (MFS), a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue.

People affected by MFS present symptoms in different parts of their bodies, but the most severe ones are linked to the cardiovascular system and include widening or aneurysm of the basis of the aorta (aortic root), which is the main artery carrying blood away from the heart.

This aneurysm can cause a dissection or a tear in the vessel, which will weaken it over time and could lead to a life threatening rupture.

We found that our zebrafish models, when engineered to lack the expression of these two genes, rapidly exhibit an impressive aortic aneurysm (in only 5 days) in a location that is anatomically equivalent to where human aortas are susceptible to developing aneurysm in MFS.

We have analyzed these zebrafish aneurysms and found several molecular hallmarks of the human disease, suggesting that the mechanisms by which zebrafish embryos develop aortic aneurysms are similar to those in Marfan patients.

The Marfan Foundation has funded my research for two years beginning in July of 2016. We are using zebrafish models in combination with genetic tools and microscopic imaging to complement ongoing work in the aneurysm field.

Although tremendous progress has been made in the past decade in the aneurysm research, several questions remain unknown regarding the drivers of the disease.

Current preventive medical therapies for Marfan patients are mainly aimed to reduce blood pressure to decrease the risk of life-threatening complications or to undergo cardiac surgery to repair the aortic root. But so far no therapy has been discovered that prevents or reverses the process of aortic dilation itself.

Because zebrafish embryos are so small and readily available, we can screen large collections of small molecules to looks for candidates that will prevent or cure aortic aneurysm in zebrafish.

In the long run, we hope that any small molecule that suppresses zebrafish aneurysm could be therefore tested in other laboratory models and eventually in humans to learn if they will prevent and/or reverse Marfan Syndrome-associated aneurysm.

The zebrafish gives us a tremendous advantage in studying the pathophysiology of cardiovascular diseases. With the progress of genome editing technologies now readily available, this model can be used to study specific cardiovascular diseases and help to further validate and understand the function of candidate genes identified in human cohorts affected by cardiovascular diseases.

Research Your Resolution: Use Evidence Based Resources to Quit Smoking in 2018


Nancy Rigotti, MD
Nancy Rigotti, MD

Nancy Rigotti, MD, is the Director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center (TRTC) at Massachusetts General Hospital.  The Center provides services to help inpatients, outpatients, employees, and community members quit smoking.

The Center also conducts research to identify effective smoking cessation treatments for smokers who are seen in a variety of health care settings. 

The best way to quit smoking is to combine FDA-approved stop smoking medications with support to change smoking behavior. Medications and coaching each work individually, but combining them is more effective than either one alone.

Medications help smokers quit by reducing cravings for cigarettes and by controlling symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and trouble concentrating.

By reducing these symptoms, you reduce discomfort and increase your chances of success.

A trained tobacco treatment specialist can help you understand your smoking patterns, offer practical advice and support for quitting, and help you choose a smoking cessation medication.

Smokers find it very helpful to check in with a tobacco treatment specialist several times as they work on quitting.

Quitting smoking is associated with a lower risk for lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. No matter how old you are or how many years you’ve smoked, you can lengthen your life and improve your quality of life by quitting smoking now. It’s never too late.

If you are a Partners HealthCare employee, contact the Partners in Helping You Quit (PiHQ) study at 617-724-2205 or to learn more about tobacco treatment coaching and smoking cessation medication available at no cost for employees with Partners HealthCare health insurance.

If you are a Massachusetts resident, you can find support to quit smoking at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

Research Your Resolution: Reduce Your Stress and Anxiety with Meditation


Sara Lazar, PhD

Sara Lazar, PhD, is an investigator in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital who is using brain imaging technology to measure the effects of meditation on brain structure. To learn more about her work, please visit her laboratory website.

If you want to reduce your level of stress and anxiety in 2018, our imaging studies have shown that the regular practice of meditation can change how the brain works.

When you engage in a behavior over and over again, it creates structural changes in your brain in a process known as neuroplasticity. You can detect these changes through MRI brain scans.

Our research team recruited participants who had no previous meditation experience and put them into an MRI scanner to get baseline readings of their brains.

One group participated in an eight-week mediation based stress reduction program where they were asked to spend 40 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises. We then compared them to another group of people who had signed up for the same class, but were willing to wait a few months to start the meditation program.

When we scanned both groups eight weeks later, we found that the participants in the meditation program had developed more gray matter in both the hippocampus, an area important for learning, memory and emotion regulation, and the tempo-parietal junction, an area important for perspective-taking, empathy and compassion.

The meditation participants also had a reduction in the amount of gray matter in the amydgala—the part of the body associated with the fight or flight response.

The results of these scans helped to confirm the reductions in stress and improvements in well being that the participants reported after participating in the mediation program.

It wasn’t just that they were telling us they felt better, or that they were experiencing the placebo effect. There was an actual neurobiological reason why they were feeling less stress.

Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

Research Your Resolution: Maintain an Exercise Routine for Health Benefits Beyond Weight Loss


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Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, FAAP, FACP, FTOS

Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, FAAP, FACP, FTOS, is an Obesity Medicine Physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center, an Associate at the Mass General Disparities Solution Center, and Associated Faculty at the Mass General Mongan Institute for Health Policy. Her research and clinical practice take a holistic approach to both treat and advocate for patients who have obesity. Read more about her research.

Many people believe that exercise will lead to significant weight loss. However, studies have shown that exercise is a great way to help maintain your current weight.

When patients, especially those who struggle with overweight or obesity, do not experience weight loss after embarking on exercise program, they tend to get discouraged and revert back to inactivity.

It is important to keep up the activity because of the numerous health benefits for not only maintaining one’s weight, but also for heart health, improved mood, and longevity.

Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.