Weekend Links


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

When love and science double date – coverage of research by Mass General psychiatrists Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds, mentions study led by Mass General investigator Robert Waldinger

Caring for Ms. L. — Overcoming My Fear of Treating Opioid Use Disorder – written by MGH Chelsea Health Center physician Audrey Provenzano

Fecal transplants move into the mainstream to treat difficult infection – features research by Mass General investigator Elizabeth Hohmann

Go Figure: Why Olympic Ice Skaters Don’t Fall Flat on Their Faces

Nature, Meet Nurture

Top illustration by Sophie Blackall

Research Your Resolution: Take a Slow and Steady Approach to Losing Weight


Emily Feig, PhD

Emily Feig, PhD, is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Feig recently published the results of a study she conducted as a doctoral student at Drexel University showing that individuals who maintained a steady rate of losing weight during the first few months of a behavioral weight loss program had better long term results than individuals who fluctuated in the amount they lost from week to week. Read more about her research study here.

If your goal for the New Year is losing weight, I recommend finding eating and exercise behaviors that lead to a steady weight loss week to week, even if the pace at which you are losing weight is slow.

For example, you might commit to bringing a healthy afternoon snack to work to replace stopping at the vending machine, setting a “kitchen closed” time when evening snacking will end, adding a vegetable to dinner five nights a week, or setting aside an hour each weekend to plan ahead for meals the next week.

By keeping track of how different behaviors affect your weight, you can adjust to find what leads to a slow and steady weight loss pace for you.

This is because we found that, in a sample of 183 participants in a behavioral weight loss program, better long-term weight loss at one and two years was achieved by those who lost weight at a consistent pace during the first few months of the program, compared to those whose weights varied more week to week.

So finding healthy behaviors that lead to a slow and steady rate of weight loss is likely a key factor in keeping the weight off long-term.

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: Use Food Placement to Set Yourself Up for Weight Loss Success


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.

Anne Thorndike, MD
Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH

Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, is an investigator in the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her research uses the principles of behavioral economics to develop strategies to encourage healthy food choices at home, in the workplace and in community settings. To learn more about her work, please visit her physician profile page.

Sticking to a healthy diet is difficult when you are exposed to unhealthy food choices on every street corner, restaurant, shelf and snack drawer.

It is even more difficult to make healthy food choices when you are busy, hungry, stressed or tired.

Using “point-of-purchase” nutrition information, such as menu calorie labels, and restructuring your home food environment are two strategies that can help you achieve your New Year’s goals.

For example, if that burrito you are thinking about for lunch has 1,000 calories, maybe it isn’t the best choice—it will give you approximately half a day’s worth of calories if you are a man, and more than half if you are a woman.

At home, you can engineer your kitchen to make healthy foods more convenient—and unhealthy foods harder to reach.

Put healthy snacks at eye level on the shelf, and hide the cookies on the top shelf.  Better yet, don’t even bring the cookies into the house!

Our research in the cafeterias at Mass General showed that labeling foods with simple traffic-light labels (red=unhealthy; green=healthy), and placing healthy foods in highly visible and convenient locations prompted cafeteria customers to make more healthy food choices (e.g. bottled water, salads) and fewer unhealthy items (e.g. soda, pizza).

In other research, we showed that placing fresh fruits and vegetables near the front of small urban food stores increased produce purchases by low-income families.

Weekend Links


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

Kill Switches – Scientists have designed “suicide switches” to ensure that lab-made organisms don’t go rogue

New York City Has Genetically Distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ Rats – A graduate student sequenced rats all over Manhattan, and discovered how the city affects their genetic diversity.

Telemedicine For Addiction Treatment? Picture Remains Fuzzy

So much for the abominable snowman – Study finds that ‘yeti’ DNA belongs to bears

Want to challenge your science communication skills? Try writing a haiku! 

A holiday gift guide for all the science lovers on your list

(top photo courtesy of NPR – Andy Baker/Ikon Images/Getty Images)

Harvard Catalyst – A Great Resource for Researchers


Established in 2008, Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center is dedicated to improving human health by enabling collaboration and providing tools, training, and technologies to clinical and translational investigators.

As a shared enterprise of the University, Harvard Catalyst is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program (grant UL1 TR001102),  Harvard University, and its affiliated healthcare centers. Resources are freely available to all Harvard faculty, regardless of institutional affiliation or academic degree.

Here are just a few of the resources they offer:

Find collaborators:
Harvard Catalyst Profiles is a nationally recognized search tool to find Harvard faculty by key terms and specializations.

Conduct a clinical study:
In-patient and out-patient facilities at BCH, BIDMC, BWH, and MGH; research nursing; coordination; nutrition; laboratory assays and other clinical research resources.

Enter a training program:
Advanced mentored training and research (KL2); a two year master’s degree program; and Grant Review and Support Program (GRASP).

Expedite a multi-site study:
Use SMART IRB to move your study forward.

Get advice:
Consultations available on biostatistics and research design, population health research, regulatory, and bioinformatics.

Receive pilot funding:
Opportunities have included childhood obesity, health disparities, advanced imaging, and advanced microscopy. Check pilot funding page for new opportunities.

Use Harvard Catalyst informatics tools:
Access de-identified patient data with SHRINE, and share research resources with other labs using eagle-i (eagle-i.net).

Take a course:
A complete portfolio of clinical and translational research education is offered throughout the year.


Study Identifies New Targets for Huntington’s Disease Research

Ghazaleh Sadri-Vakili, PhD, is the director of the NeuroEpigenetics Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (MIND).  Her work investigating the genetics of Huntington’s disease was recently featured in an article on the Mass General Giving website.

Here are five things to know:

  1. Huntington’s disease (HD) is a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. Symptoms typically start occurring between the ages of 30 and 50. The disease is highly heritable—each child of a parent with HD has a 50% chance of inheriting the faulty gene.
  2. According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA), symptoms of HD typically begin with a loss of coordination and cognitive skills. These declines get more pronounced as the disease progresses. In late stages, HD patients lose the ability to walk and speak, and choking becomes a major concern. Death is typically due to complications from the disease and not the disease itself.
  3. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have been at the forefront of research into the genetic underpinnings of Huntington’s disease for the past two decades. In 1983, a team led by James Gusella, PhD, identified the section on chromosome 4 where the HD gene was located. In 1993, a multi-institutional research group that included Marcy E. MacDonald, PhD, and Dr. Gusella identified the gene itself.
  4. Recently, a research team led by Ghazaleh Sadri-Vakili, PhD, has been studying how gene expression differs in patients with HD. Her team has identified two ways in which a genetic pathway known as the Hippo pathway malfunctions in HD. These malfunctions cause HD patients to produce too much of an enzyme called MST, and not enough of a protein called YAP.
  5. If researchers are able to identify drugs that correct this imbalance, they may be able to develop treatments that slow or halt the progression of the disease.

World Diabetes Day 2017: Recent Diabetes Research from Massachusetts General Hospital

tumblr_inline_ofnq35sy4J1tq32mi_540.jpgDiabetes impacts an estimated 425 million people around the world, and that number is projected to rise to 693 million by 2045, according to the annual diabetes atlas released today by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

Diabetes develops as a result of having too much sugar in the blood. Over time, that imbalance can cause serious and costly health problems including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and eye problems. The IDF diabetes atlas estimates that the world spends more than $720 billion on health care expenditures related to the disease.

November 14 marks World Diabetes Day – a day to raise awareness of the growing diabetes epidemic and the need for a cure as well as improved prevention and treatment methods.

Here are just a few examples of how Massachusetts General Hospital researchers are working to advance diabetes research and care:

  • Investigators have reason to believe that a vaccine originally used to treat tuberculosis could provide new hope for patients with type 1 diabetes.
  • People with type 2 diabetes are particularly prone to ulcers on the bottom of the foot, which can increase the risk of death and often result in a major amputation. Ulcers take months to heal, but a new discovery about mature B lymphocytes – best known for producing antibodies – could hasten wound recovery.
  • Researchers have developed a new method for measuring blood sugar levels in diabetes patients that could reduce testing errors by 50 percent.
  • Treatment guidelines for patients with type 1 diabetes have long called for yearly eye exams. But is there an alternative to this one-size-fits-all approach that could reduce patient burden and costs while providing a quicker diagnosis? Findings from a recent study lend insight into a possible new eye screening protocol.
  • Check out the Mass General Diabetes Unit, which seeks to advance the care of people with diabetes nearby and worldwide. U.S. News & World Report ranks Mass General Diabetes & Endocrinology among the best in the nation.


Weekend Links


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

Rebranding placebos: Harnessing the power of sham therapies for real healing might require a new lexicon

Researchers produce the first draft cell atlas of the small intestine

‘Extraordinary’ tale: Stem cells heal a young boy’s lethal skin disease

Decisions, Decisions: The Neuroscience of How We Choose (Science Weekly podcast)

Are you preparing a research poster?
A Quick Poster Checklist (From the University of Washington)
University of Texas Poster Review

Top photo courtesy of Knowable Magazine (CREDIT: TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE [CC BY-ND])

Weekend Links


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

Creative Minds: A New Way to Look at Cancer

Better Patient-Provider Communication Needed for Obesity Care

Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More

6 Speaking Tips for Scientists and Engineers (editor’s note: Melissa Marshall, featured in this article, recently spoke to Mass General clinicians about how to effectively present scientific work. We were so impressed by her talk that we wanted to introduce her to our readers) 

Looking for a great book for the young scientist in your life? The long list of 2018 AAAS/Subaru SB&F (Science Books and Films) Prize winners for Excellence in Science Books has been released. Prizes are awarded each year in the following categories:

  • Children’s Science Picture Books
  • Middle Grade Science Books
  • Young Adult Science Books
  • Hands on Science Books

See the full list here


Top photo: courtesy of Tim Lahan, MIT Technology Review

Kamryn Eddy Finds Hope for Patients with Eating Disorders

Eddy quoto (1).png

The people we encounter early in life can often have a profound impact on our future. For Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist Dr. Kamryn Eddy, a childhood friend influenced her career trajectory.

“I had a close friend in high school who had anorexia,” says Dr. Eddy. “As a result, she had a number of health concerns, including osteoporosis, and was told at age 16 that she would never be able to have children.”

She recalls being shocked that a doctor would give such a definitive and dire prognosis to someone so young. Eddy has kept in touch with her friend, who found help for her eating disorder and was eventually able to recover. Her friend now has a healthy young daughter.

“That early experience was one of my introductions to the world of eating disorders,” says Eddy. “Seeing my friend’s battle and eventual recovery from her illness also showed me that there can be hope for people suffering from eating disorders.” Continue reading “Kamryn Eddy Finds Hope for Patients with Eating Disorders”