The second annual Mass General Research Institute LAB DAY event on September 26 gave friends and supporters of Mass General research an up-close look at science with the potential to revolutionize medicine for patients.
Hosted by the Mass General Research Institute and the Office of Development, LAB DAY included eight tours of research labs at the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Richard B. Simches Research Center.
While funding for research at Mass General comes from many sources, the flexible funding provided by charitable donors plays a crucial role in driving new scientific advances, said Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD, Scientific Director of the Mass General Research Institute and Elizabeth G. Riley and Dan E. Smith Jr. MGH Research Scholar 2013-2018.
The research environment at Mass General—where world class clinicians and laboratory scientists work closely to develop new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent disease—is catalyzed by philanthropy-supported initiatives such as the MGH Research Scholars program and the Mass General Research Institute Alliance, Slaugenhaupt said.
Philanthropy enables researchers to quickly react to the latest scientific developments and pursue promising new avenues of research that may be too early or unproven for traditional funders, she said.
It often provides the means for researchers to gather preliminary data that can be used to secure more substantial grant funding in the future.
In an action-packed day, participants met with scientists exploring promising new research in mental health, cancer, genetics, imaging and infectious diseases.
Meeting the Scientists
Daphne Holt, MD, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2018-2023, kicked off the day by presenting her research about the relationship between the perception of personal space and intense social withdrawal in individuals with schizophrenia.
Miguel Rivera, MD, MGH Research Scholar 2019-2024, discussed his research seeking to identify the genetic pathways that contribute to the development of pediatric tumors and sarcomas (bone cancers).
Jacob Hooker, PhD, Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar 2016-2021, detailed his efforts to use PET imaging to learn more about the molecular underpinnings of brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.
David Langenau, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022, introduced a new zebrafish model created by his lab that could vastly improve our understanding of the growth of cancer cells and allow for the rapid testing of new treatments.
Erin Dunn, ScD, MPH, described how she is using baby teeth to identify vulnerable periods in childhood development where stressful or traumatic events are more likely to lead to mental health issues later in life.
Matthew Rosen, PhD, shared how his lab is working to develop low-field MRI imagers that are more portable and cost-effective than the current larger, heavier and more expensive machines.
Amar Sahay, PhD, James and Audrey Foster MGH Research Scholar 2019-2024, explained how his lab is working to promote the growth of neurons in the hippocampus to help preserve memory function in individuals as they age.
Eric Liao, MD, PhD, Laurie and Mason Tenaglia MGH Research Scholar 2018-2023, detailed his research investigating the genetic causes of cleft palates—the most common facial anomaly.
Michael Talkowski, MD, PhD, Desmond and Ann Heathwood MGH Research Scholar 2015-2020, discussed his lab’s efforts to understand the genetic contributors to disease, improve prenatal diagnostics and identify the genetic underpinnings of rare diseases.
The Power of Philanthropy
During lunch, guests heard a presentation from Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Steve and Deborah Gorlin MGH Research Scholar 2015-2020.
Dr. Walensky described her advocacy efforts to increase funding for HIV prevention and treatment, and to prevent proposed budget cuts, at the national and international level—work that resulted in her testifying before Congress and speaking at the United Nations in New York.
“Every single one of these analyses I was able to do because I thought it was important, the policy was moving there and I had the flexibility of the MGH Research Scholar award to pursue it,” Walensky said. “If I had to wait for grant funding, they would have never been possible.”
The Mass General Research Institute is dedicated to promoting all research at Mass General and LAB DAY is one exciting way we can share our revolutionary work and create ambassadors for science among our friends and supporters.