Awards & Recognitions: August 2023

Honors received by HMS faculty, postdocs, staff, and students

Hao Wu, professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and the HMS Asa and Patricia Springer Professor of Structural Biology in the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, has been awarded the Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).

The Vallee Award recognizes an established scientist for outstanding accomplishments in basic biomedical research. Wu was recognized for her research using cryo-electron microscopy and other biophysical methods to understand molecular complexes involved in innate immunity.

Wu has been invited to discuss her work at the ASBMB annual meeting in March 2024 in San Antonio, Texas.

The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) has recognized three of their members from HMS for their achievements in life sciences research, education, and mentoring.

Joan Reede, HMS Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership, was invited to present the Scholarship of Diversity keynote address.

Susan Shao, associate professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, received the Günter Blobel Early Career Award, which recognizes an outstanding early career life scientist who has served as an independent investigator for no more than seven years at the time of nomination.

Michael Skowyra, HMS research fellow in cell biology, received a Porter Prize for Research Excellence, which recognizes graduate students and postdoctoral researchers for their contributions to the advancement of science and the novelty and creativity of their findings.

Michael Springer, professor of systems biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, has been awarded the George Ledlie Prize by Harvard University. The honor is bestowed no more frequently than every two years to a member of the Harvard community who has made a significant contribution to science.

Springer was recognized for developing a streamlined coronavirus testing system used by Harvard and MIT and for establishing and operating the Harvard University Clinical Laboratory (HUCL), which managed testing and samples.

“Mike’s research and innovation has had a profound impact on the way the University, and society at large, have responded to and managed the COVID-19 pandemic,” said University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Alan Garber.

Springer said he was working on developing an at-home influenza test when the pandemic hit. After that it was all hands on deck for his team, with the group sometimes eating all three meals together on a given day.

“We were in the lab 80 to 100 hours a week. It was both exciting and tense,” he said.

The team initially focused on modifying their at-home flu test to detect COVID-19.

The researchers then turned their attention to high-throughput processes that would be suitable for testing tens of thousands of samples per day.

To do this, the team worked with Richard Novak, then at the Wyss Institute, to co-create a swab that allowed for collection of samples that could be semi-automatically processed. The swab did not require liquid transport media, which simplified logistics.

In its first year of operation, the lab ran over 2.2 million COVID-19 tests at a greatly reduced cost per test.

“There were a lot of little things that we needed to innovate on and connect together to make the HUCL lab work,” Springer said. “There wasn’t any one thing, but it was kind of like 10 things that all together really made this something different than what had been done before.”

Springer said he was surprised by the award, but also grateful.

“It’s an incredible honor to have your own community where you work basically saying you really did something that was important for our community and beyond and it really had a big impact and to be acknowledged for that,” Springer said. “Especially when I was not doing anything to get acknowledged. It was kind of head down, let’s solve this problem.”

As COVID testing needs have declined, Springer has branched out to work on expanding at-home collection-based tests for other diseases.

“I think that there’s a lot of potential in that space,” Springer said. “I’m working with people in the industry and thinking in general about how we can make testing more accessible, better, and cheaper.”

With Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, Springer recently co-founded the Synthetic Biology HIVE at HMS. The HIVE focuses on addressing urgent practical questions in areas such as sustainability and pandemic preparedness.

Springer shared this year’s Ledlie Prize with Raj Chetty, the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. Chetty was recognized for developing the Opportunity Atlas, an interactive tool that maps out economic outcomes for children across the U.S. to highlight which neighborhoods seem to offer the best chance to rise from poverty.

The Ledlie Prize was last awarded in 2021 to Dan Barouch, the HMS William Bosworth Castle Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for his work developing a vaccine for COVID-19.

Vamsi Mootha, HMS professor of systems biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been named to receive the 2023 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). The Lurie Prize recognizes outstanding achievements by promising scientists aged 52 or younger.

Mootha is being recognized with co-recipient Navdeep Chandel of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine for discoveries in the science of mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells.

“Doctors Chandel and Mootha embody the innovative spirit of the Lurie Prize as they advance our understanding of the many roles these complex structures play in health and disease,” said Julie Gerberding, president and CEO of the FNIH.

Mootha’s research combines genomics and computation with classic biochemistry and physiology to gain a holistic view of the genes and proteins relevant to mitochondrial function.

Mitochondria contain their own DNA, which encodes 13 mitochondrial proteins. Mootha and his research team have identified the other 99 percent of mitochondrial proteins, which are encoded by DNA in the cell nucleus. The researchers have compiled their findings in a widely used reference tool to help others discover new protein functions and disease genes.

Mootha said he has dedicated much of his research career to treating mitochondria as a system, “trying to define all of their individual components, how they operate together, and uncovering what happens when they are disrupted,” he said.

“I have been lucky to assemble an amazing group of multidisciplinary researchers who work in synergy to impact science and medicine,” he added. “This award really honors the contributions of past and present lab members.”

A jury of biomedical researchers selected Mootha and Chandel for this year’s prize.

The prize includes a $50,000 honorarium for each recipient, supported by a donation from Ann Lurie, president of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Foundation and president of Lurie Holdings, Inc.

Mootha will receive the prize in October at the FNIH 11th Annual Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Tell Us About Your Awards