The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has selected 50 new Early Career Scientists, which include five researchers with ties to HMS. Each Early Career Scientist receives a salary, benefits and $1.5 million in research funding during a six-year appointment, and because HHMI does not fund particular projects, the recipients have the freedom to explore and, if necessary, change direction in their research. The awards are designed to target scientists at a time in their careers when start-up funding from their host institutions is coming to an end. The recipients from the Harvard medical community are listed below.
Bradley Bernstein, HMS assistant professor of pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, has developed research tools to study the DNA–protein packaging called chromatin on a genomewide scale to understand its full impact in disease. He plans to investigate how chromatin helps stem cells decide when to commit to developing into a particular cell type.
Kevin Eggan, assistant professor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB), which is based at both HMS and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and an assistant investigator at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is working with human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells to study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He has successfully derived motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells and used them to observe how neurons are destroyed in ALS, revealing that motor neurons do not commit suicide but are killed by another component of the nervous system, the glial cells.
Konrad Hochedlinger, HMS assistant professor of medicine at MGH, developed a way to create induced pluripotent stem cells using adenoviruses instead of retroviruses, which can integrate with the host genome and lead to the development of cancer. Through detailed examinations of the mechanisms that enable genetic reprogramming, Hochedlinger intends to further improve stem cell models for studying development and disease.
Amy Wagers, HMS assistant professor of pathology at Joslin Diabetes Center and a SCRB faculty member, studies blood-forming and muscle-forming stem cells with an eye toward treating diseases such as cancer, anemia, muscular dystrophy and diabetes. Her work suggests that defects in aging stem cells may be reversible, and she has established in mice the feasibility of stem cell therapy for treating degenerative muscle disease.
Rachel Wilson, HMS assistant professor of neurobiology, studies how the brain processes information about odors and other types of sensory stimuli using techniques she developed to measure the electrical activity of individual neurons in the fruit fly brain in vivo. By comparing the molecules and neural circuits that process sensory stimuli in different regions of the fly brain, Wilson hopes to reveal fundamental principles about how those circuits are organized and how they process information efficiently.