Mass General Research Awards and Honors: September 2018

Massachusetts General Hospital’s talented and dedicated researchers are working to push the boundaries of science and medicine every day. Continue reading to hear from a few individuals who have recently received awards or honors for their achievements:

Erin C. Dunn, ScD, MPH, of the Center for Genomic Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry, has received the 2018 One Mind Foundation Peter Chiarelli Rising Star Collaborative Research Award. With this award, Dunn will use data from the Pregnancy and Childhood Epigenetics Consortium to examine how the timing of exposure to stress during pregnancy and childhood predicts epigenetic changes and subsequent risk for depression. Dunn’s research laboratory seeks to better understand the social and biological factors that influence the etiology of depression among women, children and adolescents. The goal of her work is to identify the causal mechanisms underlying risk for depression, translate that knowledge to population-based strategies for prevention and target those strategies to “sensitive periods” in development.

“I am truly thrilled to receive the Peter Chiarelli Rising Star Collaborative Research Award from One Mind.

Although we know that exposure to stress during pregnancy and childhood is one of the strongest risk factors for depression, the biological mechanisms explaining how stress creates this long-term vulnerability are poorly understood.

Thanks to support from One Mind, my research team will be able to analyze extensive data from multiple cohort studies of children followed from birth through adolescence to examine how the timing of exposure to stress predicts epigenetic profiles and subsequent risk for depression, thereby helping to guide our interventions.”

A research team from the James Markmann, MD, PhD, Laboratory in the Center for Transplantation Sciences – along with Korkut Uygun, PhD, of the Center for Engineering in Medicine – received the Best Clinical Research Award at the sixth Annual Harvard Surgery Research Day.

The team – led by Mohammed M. Aburawi, MD, and Fermin Fontan, MD, both post-doctoral research fellows – was recognized for their work in developing methods to bridge the gap between the supply of donor kidney organs and the demand in transplantation with their study “Normothermic Perfusion of Discarded Kidneys Using Hemopure.”

They used a special bio-perfusion machine circulating a non-cellular hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier to assess the utilization of human kidney organs that have been previously deemed untranslatable.

Last year their work also gained a distinction award at the American Transplant Congress and international recognition at the ESOT2017 Barcelona Congress.

“The disparity between donor kidney supply and demand is increasing, as is the waitlist time. A major problem in kidney utilization is the high percentage of kidneys that are discarded, often based on unsubstantiated criteria. It is our hope that the ability to discriminate between the fraction that should not be used from those that would function adequately could markedly expand the organ donor pool,” says Markmann.

“Currently 121,678 patients in the U.S. are on the wait list for a lifesaving organ transplant, more than 100,000 need a kidney, fewer than 18,000 receive one each year; The numbers are even more devastating on the global scale. My team and I are honored and humbled to be recognized by the Harvard Surgery community for our efforts tackling this global healthcare challenge.”

Bakhos Tannous, PhD, director of the Experimental Therapeutics and Molecular Imaging Laboratory, co-director of the Molecular Neurogenetics Unit-East and director of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Center at MGH, has received the 2018 Xandra Breakefield Research Mentor Award for outstanding faculty mentoring in Investigation.

Tannous and his lab work to develop novel methods for the diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors.

In describing Tannous, his mentees emphasize how he “takes the time to get to know everyone personally, learn one’s interests, and what will best motivate us to excel. He sets high expectations of each one of us… it became more than just research – it became an adventure.”

“It is an honor to receive the “Xandra Breakefield Mentor Award” not only because I am grateful for all my wonderful mentees for all their hard work and appreciation, but also because it is named after my own mentor and role model, Xandra Breakefield, who taught me what it means to be a true mentor.

We are all here in a training phase and everyone will move on. The postdoctoral fellow will go to academia; the graduate student will move on for a postdoctoral training; and the technician will move on to graduate or medical school.

Everyone should be treated equally and should be given the chance to excel and succeed.”

Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, division chief of General Academic Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar, has received an award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to disseminate and implement research findings on Effective Childhood Obesity Treatment Innovations.

The study is part of a portfolio of projects that PCORI has funded to help improve the awareness, uptake and use of patient-centered comparative effectiveness research results obtained from PCORI-funded studies.

“My research goals have always been to not just study the science of what works for obesity, but to also implement best practices for obesity management in settings and with populations that could benefit the most from our findings.

This PCORI award will allow us implement a proven-effective childhood obesity intervention across a diverse population of children and families and to study the ways to accelerate the uptake of best practices in real-world clinical settings.”

Karen Nanji, MD, MPH, of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, has received a 2018 Clinical Scientist Development Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for her project, “Preventing Perioperative Medication Errors Through the Reduction of Clinical Decision Support Alert Overrides.”

The award allows recipients to dedicate 75 percent of their professional time to clinical research in support of their transition to an independent research career.

The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, child well-being and medical research.

The foundation’s Medical Research Program supports clinical research that advances the translation of biomedical discoveries into prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies for human diseases.

David P. Gierga, PhD, medical physicist in the Department of Radiation Oncology, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM).

This honor recognizes members who have made remarkable contributions in research, education or leadership in the medical physics community. AAPM supports the medical physics community with a focus on advancing patient care through education, improving safety and efficacy of radiation oncology and medical imaging procedures through research, and the maintenance of professional standards.

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