Awards & Recognitions: February 2021

Honors received by HMS faculty, staff and students

Alfred Goldberg, professor of cell biology at HMS, won the 2021 Passano Award, which is presented by the Passano Foundation to a basic investigator who has made  exceptional contributions to the advancement of medical science that have had clinical applications. Goldberg was recognized for introducing the proteasome inhibitors (MG132) now very widely used as research tools and initiating the research that led to the development of the inhibitor Velcade/bortezomib, which is used worldwide in the primary treatment of the blood cancer multiple myeloma. An award ceremony will take at Johns Hopkins Medical School at a date to be announced.

Goldberg’s major discoveries have concerned the biochemical mechanisms and physiological regulation of protein breakdown in cells and the importance of this process in human disease. His laboratory first discovered the ATP-dependent system for protein breakdown, now termed the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. They first demonstrated the involvement of the proteasomes in this process and discovered the ATP-dependent proteases responsible for protein degradation in bacteria and mitochondria.  Also of wide impact have been his findings about the mechanisms for the excessive protein degradation and muscle atrophy in many disease states and their elucidation of the role of the proteasome and cellular peptidases in antigen presentation to the immune system. Goldberg’s wide-ranging work has had a major impact on many areas of biology, medicine, and biotechnology.

Patricia D'Amore, the Charles L. Schepens Professor of Ophthalmology  at HMS and vice chair of basic and translational research at Harvard Ophthalmology, received the 2020 Earl P. Benditt Award from the North American Vascular Biology Organization in recognition of her numerous contributions to the understanding of vascular development and growth. At a webinar in Nov. 2020, D’Amore presented the Benditt Lecture entitled, “Understanding capillary growth and pathology using the retina as a model system.”

D’Amore is an internationally recognized expert of vascular growth and development and has been at the forefront of angiogenesis research for over three decades. She identified vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) as the elusive “Factor X” that causes pathological blood vessel growth in blinding neovascular eye diseases. These investigations formed the scientific foundations of anti-VEGF therapies, which were first approved for clinical use in 2004 and are currently used to treat various cancers and intraocular vascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Two HMS researchers have been recognized by Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB).

Lucia Sobrin, HMS associate professor of ophthalmology at HMS and associate chief of clinical data science at Mass Eye and Ear, received RPB’s 2020 Physician-Scientist Award, which provides funding to promote the clinical and basic science research of clinicians. This award will support Sobrin’s work to identify genes that influence the risk of developing ocular hypertension after corticosteroid use. Her research focuses on identifying genes associated with polygenic ophthalmic diseases. Sobrin has led several genetic studies in diabetic retinopathy including a multiethnic genome-wide association study of diabetic retinopathy.

Kinga Bujakowksa, HMS assistant professor of ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear, received RPB’s 2020 International Research Collaborators Award. Bujakowska’s research aims to discover new genetic causes of inherited retinal degenerations (IRDs), which cause blindness or severe vision impairment. Her work includes finding novel IRD genes and a systematic detection and validation of elusive mutations in already known disease genes.

David Wu, HMS assistant professor of ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear and the Joan Whitten Miller Retina Scholar at Harvard Ophthalmology, received the Edward N. and Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation Awards Program in Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Research. The award will support Wu’s AMD research, which seeks to explore the interplay between the retina, RPE, and the development of early macular degeneration. By better understanding the molecular processes underlying this complex physiology, he hopes to identify new therapies to halt the progression to advanced macular degeneration and vision loss.   

Three HMS postdocs were among 21 early career scientists selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as 2020 Hanna Gray Fellows. The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program seeks to encourage talented early career scientists who have the potential to become leaders in academic research by supporting fellows for eight years from postdoctoral training into tenure-track faculty positions. In particular, this program aims to recruit and retain emerging scientists who are from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The HHMI 2020 Hanna Gray Fellows from HMS are:

James Allen, HMS research fellow in pathology at Mass General

Mentor: David Langenau, HMS professor of pathology at Mass General

Allen is working to understand how pediatric cancers, such as T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL, co-opt the body’s mechanisms for their own ends. A major hurdle to developing a more effective treatment for T-ALL is a limited understanding of the genes and pathways that drive the cancer’s spread and are required for tumor growth. Allen plans to uncover novel drivers of the disease and identify pathways that can be targeted by therapeutics.

Ava Carter, research fellow in neurobiology at HMS

Mentor: Michael Greenberg, the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology at HMS

Carter is working to understand how interpretation of sensory cues drives human brain development throughout childhood. Carter is studying a family of proteins called zinc finger transcription factors that are enriched during this process. By looking at the targets of these factors, Carter hopes to uncover how a relatively unexplored part of the genome might contribute to human brain development and evolution.

Morgan Gilman, research fellow in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at HMS

Mentor: Andrew Kruse, professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at HMS

Gilman is scrutinizing a set of molecular mechanisms that nearly all bacteria use to build their cell walls—in order to help break them down. Several antibiotics, like penicillin, work by blocking the synthesis of peptidoglycan, a key component of bacterial cell walls, at specific stages of its assembly. However, many bacteria have developed resistance to these antibiotics. Gilman hopes to lay the groundwork for new antibiotics that target a family of proteins called the SEDS, which were recently discovered to play a critical role in a different stage of peptidoglycan synthesis.

Benjamin Ebert, the HMS George P. Canellos, MD, and Jean S. Canellos Professor of Medicine at Dana-Farber, received the 2021 Sjöberg Prize for his research into how lenalidomide works as a treatment for blood cancer.

Ebert, who is chair of medical oncology at the Dana-Farber, mapped the mechanism responsible for lenalidomide’s function; the substance acts like glue, redirecting the proteins that are necessary for the cancer cell’s survival to the cell’s waste disposal, where they are broken down. This leads to the death of the cell. His discovery of this mechanism that promotes protein breakdown in cancer cells may be vitally important to the future development of new pharmaceuticals.

The following HMS scientists are among 128 early career researchers selected by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to receive 2021 Sloan Research Fellowships, which honor extraordinary U.S. and Canadian researchers whose creativity, innovation, and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of scientific leaders:

A. Sloan Devlin, assistant professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at HMS, received the fellowshipin chemistry.

Heng Li, HMS assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Dana-Farber, received the fellowship in computational and evolutionary molecular biology.

Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology in the Department of Surgery at HMS and Boston Children’s, is one of 106 new members and 23 international members to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Ingber was recognized for his “interdisciplinary contributions to mechanobiology and microsystems engineering, and leadership in biologically inspired engineering.” He will be formally inducted during the NAE’s annual meeting in October.

Joseph Feuerstein, HMS associate professor of medicine and associate clinical chief of gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess, was one of seven individuals to receive the American Gastroenterological Association’s 2021 Outstanding Service Award, which honors individuals who have contributed significantly to society's health and welfare. This year’s awardees are members of the AGA Institute Clinical Guidelines Committee and Clinical Practice Updates Committee who comprised the rapid review working group for COVID-19 guidance. The award will be presented virtually in May 2021.

Ruaidhrí Jackson, assistant professor of immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, was named one of 10 2020 Allen Distinguished Investigators, a program that supports early-stage research projects in biology and medical research. The investigators are working in the emerging field of immunometabolism and exploring new avenues of basic biology, health, disease, and technology development.

Jackson is leading a project with Will Bailis of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Chris Bennett of the University of Pennsylvania to better understand the many links between immunity and metabolism at the scale of individual cells, organs, and the entire body. These inextricable links—how our diet affects our immune system and how our immune cells in turn change metabolism—tie into all aspects of human health and disease, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Using laboratory mice, the researchers will study how an animal’s food affects energy production inside immune cells by genetically engineering those cells to “ignore” changes in diet. In tandem, they will study how one particular type of immune cell, known as tissue resident macrophages, uses metabolism to govern not only its own cellular function but the function of tissues and the entire body.

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