Awards & Recognitions: February 2020

Honors received by HMS faculty, staff and students

Michael Baym, assistant professor of biomedical informatics in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, was among 126 early-career researchers selected by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to receive 2020 Sloan Research Fellowships, which honors scholars in the U.S. and Canada in eight scientific and technical fields for their creativity, leadership and independent research achievements.

Baym was recognized in the field of computational and evolutionary molecular biology. He and the other scholars will receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship to advance their research.

Two HMS researchers have been named among the Top 25 Minority Leaders in Healthcare - 2020. This biennial recognition program honors minority health care executives influencing policy and care delivery models across the country. These accomplished leaders and mentors promote gender equality and highlight the continued need to nurture diversity within their organizations.

Vivian Lee, HMS senior lecturer on radiology, part-time, at Massachusetts General Hospital, was recognized for her position as president of health platforms at Verily Life Sciences.

Thomas Sequist, HMS professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was recognized for his position as chief quality and safety officer at Partners HealthCare.

Two following HMS researchers have been selected to receive 2020 Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Research Fellowships by the Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research explore questions regarding diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease:

Mehmet Furkan Burak, HMS research fellow in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and postdoctoral fellow in molecular metabolism at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will focus on targeting the adipo-pulmonary axis via FABP4 to prevent and treat obesity-related asthma and will conduct his research with Gökhan S. Hotamışlıgil, the James Stevens Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

 Manal Zaher, HMS research fellow in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, will focus on characterizing the last steps of DNA replication termination in Xenopus laevis using single molecule imaging and will conduct her research with Johannes Walter,
professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at HMS.

Sean Whelan, professor of microbiology at HMS, received the 2020 LGBTQ+ Scientist of the Yearaward from the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals for outstanding research and groundbreaking discoveries in the field of virology. He was recognized during the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, on Feb. 14.

Whelan’s virology research provides crucial insights into the function and structure of emerging diseases, and his research framework applies to the recent emergence of the COVID-19 disease. Stemming from his postdoctoral  research, where Whelan developed genetic approaches to engineer vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), he studies how diverse viruses that cause diseases such as rabies, Ebola, Lassa, and SARS infect cells and replicate. Whelan’s technique allows the surface proteins of those highly hazardous viruses to be incorporated into VSV variants that can be studied rapidly and safely in the laboratory. He has also made major contributions to understanding the structure and function of the VSV replication machinery.

Whelan is a gay man, and his openness has created opportunities to connect, network and work with other LGBTQ+ scientists. He chose to be open and encourages colleagues to be open to provide examples to students and young scientists. He has taken a position as the Marvin A. Brennecke Distinguished Professor and chair of Molecular Microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Two Harvard Medical School researchers have been selected as fellows by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) as part of the 2019 Bridge to Independence Award program, which assists new scientists in transitioning to independent careers in autism research.  The new Bridge to Independence Award Fellows from HMS are:

Fenna Marie Krienen, research fellow in genetics at HMS in the McCarroll Lab,  will study understanding preservation and separation of the autism risk gene expression through human genetics and animal prototypes: specifically, the comparisons between single-cell RNA sequencing to investigate how brain structures, cell types and circuits relevant to Autism Spectrum Disorder are similar and different in humans, nonhuman primates and mice.

Hume Akahori Stroud, research fellow in neurobiology at HMS in the Greenburg Lab, will study DNA Methylation in brain development and autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, this proposal will evaluate potential regulatory mechanisms affecting the activity of the DNA methyltransferase DNMT3A, a known ASD-risk gene, as well as downstream effects on the neuronal methylome. 

David Bao-Long Duong, HMS instructor in global health and social medicine and of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, was among 60 individuals selected to the 2020 class of Presidential Leadership Scholars, who are chosen based on their leadership potential.

Selected Scholars will travel to participating presidential centers to expand their leadership skills by learning from former presidents and other leaders. The purpose of this program is develop leaders who can positively impact their community. 

Stuart Orkin, the David G. Nathan Professor of Pediatrics at HMS and Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, has been named by the King Faisal Foundation as the 2020 King Faisal Prize Laureate in Medicinefor his research contributions in hemoglobin disorders.

Orkin, who is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was awarded the prize in recognition for his outstanding contributions to the field of hemoglobinopathies which included seminal contributions of basic discoveries as well as translating them into clinical care in at least 3 areas. One is the identification of mutations causing beta thalassemia syndromes. A second is studies of GATA-1 defining its function in red blood cell formation. Third is identification of BCL11A as the suppressor of hemoglobin F and understanding its mechanism of action. This has led to clinical trials interrupting its effects in order to improve both beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease by increasing hemoglobin F levels.

Six Harvard Medical School postdoctoral researchers have received awards from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. Four of the HMS researchers are among six nationwide to receive a Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists, and two of the HMS researchers are among 16 to be named as new Damon Runyon Fellows.

The 2020 recipients of the Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists from HMS are:

Ivana Gasic, HMS research fellow in systems biology (Damon Runyon Merck Fellow 2016-2020)

Gasic is investigating the fundamental principles of tubulin autoregulation and the microtubule integrity response, a mechanism that detects and responds to changes in the microtubule cytoskeleton in interphase cells. Microtubules are frequent chemotherapy targets when treating various cancers such as leukemia, lymphomas, melanomas and lung, ovarian and breast cancers. Microtubule-targeting chemotherapeutics kill cancer cells by blocking cell division and inhibiting cell growth. Gasic's work reveals how the microtubule-targeting drugs may work independently of cell cycle and suggests potential new pathways to specifically target cancer cells.

Natasha O'Brown, HMS research fellow in systems biology (Damon Runyon Fellow 2016-2020)

O'Brown is investigating the molecular mechanisms that govern the blood-brain barrier, the gatekeeper for the brain. While the blood-brain barrier protects the brain from pathogens and maintains the environment for normal brain function, it also acts as an obstacle to drug delivery for neurological diseases, including brain tumors. O'Brown has established the timeline of zebrafish blood-brain barrier functional development using reporter lines and tracer assays. She is using CRISPR technology to create mutants that will shed light on details of blood-brain barrier biology. A better understanding of the molecular determinants underlying blood-brain barrier properties may provide new therapeutic avenues for drug delivery.

Benjamin Stinson, HMS research fellow in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology (Damon Runyon Fellow 2016-2020)

Stinson focuses on nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ), a cellular DNA repair process that repairs most DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in vertebrates. Failure to repair DSBs properly can lead to new mutations, which are a central feature of cancer initiation and progression. Stinson has discovered one way the NHEJ machinery modifies DNA at DSBs and minimizes errors when rejoining broken ends of the DNA molecule. He will further investigate the basic mechanisms of the two main DSB repair pathways, which are critical to understanding the causes of many cancers and informing therapeutic approaches.

Iva Tchasovnikarova, HMS research fellow in genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital (Damon Runyon Fellow 2016-2020)

Tchasovnikarova has developed an unbiased, broadly applicable method to identify cell-based reporters of any epigenetic process inside the nucleus. Epigenetic modifications do not change the DNA sequence but affect which genes are turned on or off, ensuring that only necessary proteins are produced. Disruption of epigenetic regulation, a hallmark of cancer, can result in malignant cellular transformation. Tchasovnikarova will utilize her novel technology to better understand the fundamental biology underlying these epigenetic mechanisms and identify optimal targets for novel therapies.

The November 2019 Damon Runyon Fellows from HMS are:

Erin Duffy, HMS research fellow in neurobiology, with her sponsor Michael Greenberg, the HMS Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology, is investigating how neuronal activity can regulate gene expression through a potentially novel mechanism in the developing brain. Called RNA turnover, this mechanism may enable gene expression to be rapidly and locally controlled at individual connections between neurons based on neuronal activity. There is evidence that neuronal activity may contribute to pediatric malignant glioma brain tumors. Duffy aims to characterize this process and identify new therapeutic targets for pediatric brain cancer.

Nikit Patel, HMS research fellow in systems biology, with his sponsor Allon Klein, HMS associate professor of systems biology, is focusing on hematopoiesis, the process by which stem cells in the bone marrow differentiate into all the blood and immune cells in our bodies. Breakdown of this process is linked to cancers including myelomas and leukemias. Patel aims to determine critical components driving hematopoiesis by studying this process in different vertebrate animals and comparing evolutionarily conserved regulators. He will then use gene-editing methods to test whether these regulators play a role in mammalian hematopoiesis. This work has the potential to identify new therapeutic targets and novel strategies for combating blood-related cancers.

Welcome Bender, the Harold T. White Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, was among six scientists to be recognized by the Genetics Society of Americafor distinguished service in the field of genetics and for making critical contributions to science.

As the recipient of the Edward Novitski Prize, Bender is being recognized for creativity and ingenuity in revealing the molecular nature and regulation of the bithorax gene complex. He and the other awardees will be presented with awards at the Allied Genetics Conference in April.

Francisco Quintana, HMS professor of neurology and a multiple sclerosis researcher at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has won the 2019 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS ResearchHe will receive the award and deliver the Barancik Prize lecture at the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis Forum in February. 

Quintana has established innovative research programs that use advanced technology to make significant contributions to the understanding of the immune response and to identify potential therapeutic targets and biomarkers for MS. He recently developed a new research platform to identify gene-environment interactions that control central nervous system inflammation that drives the damage that occurs in MS. The studies identified novel pathways involved in the regulation of this inflammation and map out a novel way to systematically investigate environmental factors in MS and other diseases. 


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