Awards & Recognitions: April 2020

Honors received by HMS faculty, staff and students

Two research projects led by HMS scientists in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and Boston Children’s Hospital are among 29 interdisciplinary teams to receive $14 million funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to explore emerging ideas regarding the role of inflammation in disease.

Isaac Chiu, assistant professor of immunology, and Stephen Liberles, professor of cell biology, are the investigators, with Henrique Veiga-Fernandes of the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown, on the project “Unraveling neuroimmune interactions at the single-cell level.”

Jeffrey Moffitt, assistant professor of microbiology at Boston Children’s, and Michael Carroll, professor of pediatrics (pathology), are investigators on the project “Visualizing B- and T-cell clones associated with autoimmunity.”

Five scientists have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. They are among 120 members and 26 international members elected.

The newly elected members from HMS are:

Joel Habener, professor of medicine and chief of the laboratory of molecular endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital

Judy Lieberman, professor of pediatrics and chair of cellular and molecular medicine at Boston Children's Hospital

Margaret Livingstone, the Takeda Professor of Neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute

Olivier Pourquié, the Frank Burr Mallory Professor of Pathology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute

Suzanne Walker, professor of microbiology in the Blavatnik Institute

Six HMS faculty members have been recognized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Three have been named winners of ASCO's Special Awards, which honors recipients who have worked to transform cancer care around the world. Three others were recognized as fellows of distinction by the society. They will be honored at the ASCO 2020 Virtual Scientific Program in May.

The special award winners from HMS are:

George Demetri, HMS professor of medicine, senior vice president for experimental therapeutics and director of the Sarcoma Center at Dana-Farber, was named to receive the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture, which recognizes an oncologist who has made outstanding contributions to cancer research, diagnosis and/or treatment. Demitri, who is co-director of the Ludwig Center at Harvard, has dedicated his career to translational research aimed at understanding and treating precisely defined subsets of cancers. He was a pioneer in the development of targeted therapies for gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) as a molecularly-defined subset of sarcomas.

Pasi Jänne, HMS professor of medicine and director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber and the director of the Belfer Center for Applied Cancer Science. He was one of the co-discoverers of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations and has led the development of therapeutic strategies for patients with EGFR-mutant lung cancer. Jänne was named to receive the Science of Oncology Award and Lecture, which is presented annually in recognition of a recipient’s outstanding contributions to basic or translational research in cancer.

Anthony D’Amico, HMS professor of radiation oncology, the Eleanor Theresa Walters Distinguished Chair and chief of genitourinary radiation oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, was named to receive the Excellence in Teaching Award, which underscores ASCO’s belief that teaching is as important to the future of cancer medicine as are research, care delivery and clinical work.D’Amico is the chair of the residency executive committee in the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program and advisory dean and heads career advising and mentorship programs at Harvard Medical School. He is an internationally known expert in the treatment of prostate cancer and has defined combined modality staging.

Each year ASCO also recognizes members with the Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology distinction. This year, Michael Hassett, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Dana-Farber, Jennifer Ligibel, HMS associate professor of medicine at Dana-Farber, and Mary-Ellen Taplin, HMS professor of medicine at Dana-Farber, are among the recipients recognized for their extraordinary volunteer service, dedication and commitment to ASCO.

Arlene Sharpe, the George Fabyan Professor of Comparative Pathology and head of the department of immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, and Gordon Freeman, HMS professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, with Lieping Chen from the Yale Cancer Center, were named to receive the 2020 Richard V. Smalley, MD, Memorial Award and Lectureship by the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer  (SITC) for their research which formed the foundation for developing immune checkpoint blockade immunotherapies. They will be featured during the society’s annual meeting in November.

The research conducted by Freeman’s lab identified the major pathways that control the immune response by inhibiting T cell activation (PD-1/PD-L1 and B7-2/CTLA-4) or stimulating T cell activation (B7-2/CD28). His group’s discovery of PD-L1 and PD-L2 demonstrated that these molecules were ligands for PD-1, thereby defining the PD-1 pathway and the potential of drugs to block these interactions. Freeman demonstrated that PD-L1 is highly expressed on many solid tumors as well as some hematologic malignancies, which allows these tumors to inhibit immune responses. He made antibodies that blocked the PD-1 pathway and showed they enhanced immune responses.“The PD-L1/PD-1 Pathway: Discovery and New Insights,” is the title of Freeman’s Richard V. Smalley, MD, Memorial Lectureship.

Sharpe has used genetic approaches to discover T cell costimulatory molecules and understand their functions. Her studies with B7 (CD80) deficient mice led to the discovery of B7-2 (CD86) and the realization that it was the major CD28 ligand. Her work on CTLA-4 knockout mice convinced the field that CTLA-4 was a critical inhibitory molecule and a key mediator of T cell tolerance. Her studies of PD-1 and its ligand revealed that the inhibitory functions of this pathway control resolution of inflammation and tolerance in tissues.

Recently, her laboratory has developed a CRISPR/Cas9 screening platform to identify genes that regulate T cell tolerance and T cell exhaustion in immune cells and is using this approach to determine how perturbation of coinhibitory receptors and other immunoregulatory genes can improve responses to PD-1 checkpoint blockade. Sharpe will deliver her Richard V. Smalley, MD, Memorial Lectureship titled, “Discovery of New IO Targets and Mechanisms Leveraging CRISPR” discussing her recent work.

Six members of the Harvard Medical School faculty are among 276 individuals elected to the 2020 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary society and an independent policy research center that honors excellence and engages leaders from various disciplines to provide solutions to complex challenges facing the world. The six electees from HMS are:

Katrina Armstrong, head of the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital

Daniel Finley, professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute

Ann Hochschild, the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Microbiology and head of the Department of Microbiology in the Blavatnik Institute

William Kaelin, the Sidney Farber Professor of Medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Suzanne Walker, professor of microbiology in the Blavatnik Institute

Clifford Woolf, professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital

Stuart Orkin, the David G. Nathan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at HMS and Boston Children’s Hospital was awarded the Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine, which honors physician-scientists who have moved science forward with achievements notable for innovation, creativity and potential for clinical application.

Orkin, a principal faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is being recognized for breakthrough discoveries on red blood cells that offer new treatments for patients with sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, which are among the most common genetic disorders. He discovered how the switch between fetal and adult hemoglobin is controlled, solving a longstanding mystery and suggesting new ways to reactivate normal fetal hemoglobin. Specifically, the Orkin laboratory showed that the gene BCL11A turns off fetal hemoglobin. By blocking BCL11A, fetal hemoglobin expression can be restored in the adult, offering a potential cure. In genetically engineered SCD mice, removal of BCL11A corrected red blood cell production.

The Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine is awarded by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio, and the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

Jasmine Knoll, HMS research fellow in pediatrics at Boston Children’s, has been awarded a Medical Biochemical Genetics Subspecialty Fellowship as part of the 2020 Takeda/ACMG Foundation Next Generation Fellowship Awards.

Knoll’s research interests lie in the application of network-based analysis of large data sets to derive polygenic interactions that influence phenotypic expression. Utilizing this technique, she hopes to improve disease modeling and identify novel targets for therapy and monitoring. The focus of her clinical project will be a multi-omics evaluation of individuals with Gaucher disease including an analysis of the biologic impact that occurs at the time of an enzyme replacement infusion. 

Deepak BhattHMS professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was one of seven physician-scientists awarded the American Heart Association’s 2019 Distinguished Scientist Award, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to cardiovascular and stroke research.

Bhatt’s research interests include acute coronary syndromes, preventive cardiology and advanced techniques in cardiac, cerebral and peripheral intervention. He is executive director of Interventional Cardiovascular Programs at Brigham and Women’s. Bhatt is editor of the book Cardiovascular Intervention and the Journal of Invasive Cardiology and editor-in-chief of the Harvard Heart Letter for patients.

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