Awards & Recognitions: January 2021

Honors received by HMS faculty, staff and students

Stuart Orkin, the David G. Nathan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at HMS and Dana-Farber, was named to receive the 2021 Tobias Lecture Award from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). The prize recognizes original and promising basic hematology research as well as direct translational or clinical research related to cell therapy in hematological disorders. The award will be presented at a special lecture during ISSCR 2021 Virtual in June.

Orkin, an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is internationally recognized as a physician-scientist for his ground-breaking discoveries in many aspects of hematopoiesis and particularly as a pioneer in establishing the roles of transcription factors and genetic networks in hematopoietic cell differentiation. Over the past decade, he has used this knowledge to transform current understanding of erythroid differentiation and how fetal hemoglobin is silenced in development and can be experimentally reactivated via modulation of BCL11A function. This work forms the basis for novel gene therapy and gene editing approaches to provide cures for patients with the major hemoglobinopathies, sickle cell disease, and ß-thalassemia.

Deepshika Ramanan, research fellow in immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, was selected as one of five researchers to receive the 2021 Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists. The award provides additional funding to postdoctoral scientists completing a Damon Runyon Fellowship Award in order to accelerate their path to independence and encourage their continued career in cancer research.

Ramanan studies the interplay between commensal microbes and immune cells in the intestine, investigating how these interactions influence the progression of inflammation and colorectal cancer. Immune fitness of an individual is thought to be the result of ongoing interactions between genetics and microbial exposure. A fundamental and often overlooked aspect of immunity, however, is the effect of maternal and environmental factors in early life. Ramanan uncovered a novel mode of nongenetic multigenerational transfer of immune traits (entero-mammary axis). She will utilize this tool to understand how maternal factors can modulate immune responses to infections, inflammation, and colorectal carcinoma.

Stefan Niekamp, HMS research fellow in genetics at Mass General, was named one of 15 November 2020 Damon Runyon Fellows. The fellowship encourages promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with four years of independent funding to work on innovative projects in basic and translational cancer research.

With his sponsor Robert E. Kingston, HMS professor of genetics at Mass General, Niekamp studies how gene expression programs are regulated in normal and cancer cells. The ability to switch specific genes "on" and "off" is partly encoded by multiprotein complexes competing for access to target DNA sequences in chromatin structures. The relative distribution of these activating or repressive complexes along chromatin regulates gene expression, and a shift in the balance of these complexes is a hallmark of many cancers. Niekamp aims to determine how chromatin accessibility is achieved by the competition between activating and repressive complexes and to understand how well-known cancer mutations disrupt the fine-tuned balance. 

Allon Klein, associate professor of systems biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, was named with Aviv Regev of Genentech to receive the inaugural James Prize in Science and Technology Integration from the National Academy of Sciences. The prize honors outstanding contributions made by researchers who are able to adopt or adapt information or techniques from outside their fields, integrating knowledge from two or more disciplines to solve a major contemporary challenge not addressable from a single disciplinary perspective. The award will be presented virtually during the National Academy of Sciences’ 158th annual meeting.

Klein and Regev are receiving the prize for “their concurrent development of now widely adopted massively parallel single-cell genomics to interrogate the gene expression profiles that define, at the level of individual cells, the distinct cell types in metazoan tissues, their developmental trajectories, and disease states, which integrated tools from molecular biology, engineering, statistics, and computer science.”

Klein is being recognized for innovating high-throughput experimental and mathematical approaches to analyze single-cell transcriptomes at an unprecedented level of detail and discover how cell fate is decided in metazoan tissues. His work combines statistics and physics with molecular biology. He has mapped differentiation hierarchies, identified transitional developmental states to predict features of fate control, and discovered new cell types and regenerative programs.

Neal Baer, lecturer on global health and social medicine, in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, was the guest editor of a special issue of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine that received the 2020 Best Public Intellectual Special Issue award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.

The Winter 2020 issue of the journal focuses on CRISPR, a genome-editing tool that allows researchers to alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. The 12 essays in the special issue, written for the general public, probe the urgent questions posed by the tool that has the potential to give an individual the power to genetically engineer the human species. The technology has been at the forefront of scientific and public debate following the announcement in November 2018 that a Chinese researcher successfully altered the genes of human embryos that resulted in the birth of twin girls.

Anton Kris, HMS professor of psychiatry, part-time, at Beth Israel Deaconess, was one of four individuals selected to receive the Sigourney Award-2020, which recognizes outstanding work that has advanced psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thought.

Kris is a psychoanalyst, a training and supervising analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and a past executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives. His work has influenced analysts and psychotherapists around the world. Kris is being recognized for helping to sustain and grow Freud’s theories, while providing leadership in a careful reconsideration of them. As the Freud Archives’ executive director, he digitized and brought the archive into the public domain, publishing them on the Library of Congress website.

Yohei Tomita, HMS research fellow in ophthalmology at Boston Children's, received the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s 2021 Bert M. Glaser, MD Award for Innovative Research in Retina, which recognizes an early-career investigator who has made a novel discovery that impacted the understanding and/or treatment of a retinal disease or condition.

Tomita was recognized for his retinal translational research, with a focus on diabetic retinopathy (DR) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Tomita has several ongoing projects with the goal of better characterizing early-stage retinal disease, including the development of new treatments for AMD and DR based on his own research on molecular pathways, and the development of several tools, including an instrument that can measure mitochondrial function using Raman spectroscopy, and a second instrument meant to examine mitochondrial function in pluripotent stem cells—a type of cell that has the ability to self-renew—in patients with eye disease using microfluidics and Raman spectroscopy.

Three faculty and two staff members were recognized for the 2020 Exceptional Institutional Service Awards to HMS/HSDM. The honorees have set the standard for service at HMS and HSDM through their personal initiative in providing service and engaging others to do the same.

2020 Barbara J. McNeil Faculty Lifetime Award

Frederick Lovejoy Jr., the William Berenberg Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Boston Children’s, has inspired generations of physicians during his more than 50 years of service on the HMS faculty. Lovejoy has made major contributions to HMS, including the creation of new faculty promotion pathways for clinicians and teachers, mentorship of students, and leadership of the pediatric residency program.

Two faculty members received 2020 Barbara J. McNeil Faculty Award for Exceptional Service to HMS/HSDM

John Flanagan, professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, was recognized for his contributions to the education of HMS students. His personal initiative and dedication have been instrumental in the design and implementation of the innovative Advanced Integrated Science Courses. 

Maryam Asgari, HMS professor of dermatology at Mass General, served on and led multiple committees such as the Joint Committee on the Status of Women, currently serving as faculty chair; Promotions, Reappointments and Appointments Committee; Eleanor and Miles Shore Faculty Development Awards Review Committee; Joseph B. Martin's Dean's Leadership Awards for the Advancement of Women Award Selection Committee; and Honor’s Thesis Committee. Asgari exceeds routine expectations and requirements for her position and continuously inspires others to follow her footsteps in service to HMS.   

Two staff members received 2020 Daniel D. Federman Staff Award for Exceptional Service to HMS/HSDM

Rebecca Caruso, director of the Committee on Microbiological Safety, was recognized for her contributions to the HMS mission with her reliable service and personal dedication. During the COVID-19 crisis, she not only supported the initiation of critical research but also ensured that HMS ramped up its standards for safety for the continuity of research on COVID-19.

Robert Dickson, director of campus services, whose contributions to HMS exceed any expectations of his position. When HMS closed due to COVID-19 at the end of March and residents needed to be evacuated from Vanderbilt Hall within the span of 48-72 hours, Dickson assembled a crisis team and organized an incredibly smooth move out.

Myron Rolle, HMS clinical fellow in neurosurgery at Mass General, was name one of Medscape’s 20 Top Black Physician Social Media Influencers, who were selected for providing useful, credible information; setting an industry standard for best practices on social media, including behaving ethically and avoiding special interests; and interacting with followers in a meaningful way.

London Society student Wan Fung Chui, was one of nine Harvard affiliates to be name Schwarzman Scholars, an academic honor awarded to individuals interested in studying China and its relationship with the world. The scholarship finances a one-year master’s program in global affairs at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

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