Awards & Recognitions: October 2019

Honors received by HMS faculty, staff and students

Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, HMS professor of medicine, emerita, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was chosen to receive the Roy O. Greep Award for Outstanding Research, one of the Endocrine Society’s 2020 Laureate Awards. This annual award recognizes meritorious contributions to research in endocrinology.

Maratos-Flier is also director of translational medicine at Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research. Her research on energy balance defined the role of two “new” hormones in the development of metabolic syndrome. Her work is being translated and applied to help solve the obesity problem and its complications, including type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.

Joseph Martin, the Edward R. and Anne G. Lefler Professor of Neurobiology, Emeritus, at Harvard Medical School, and dean of HMS from 1997 to 2007, is among six Canadian medical scientists named for induction to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame for his ability to promote collaboration in building and expanding the institutional foundations of medical education and science in North America.

William G. Kaelin Jr., the Sidney Farber Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and senior physician in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is one of three winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Monday morning. 

Kaelin shares the award with Peter J. Ratcliffe of the University of Oxford and the Francis Crick Institute, and Gregg L. Semenza of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who were cited for the discovery of the pathway by which cells from humans and most animals sense and adapt to changes in oxygen availability, a process which is essential for survival.

Kaelin’s research explores why mutations in genes known as tumor suppressors can lead to cancer. His study of a tumor-suppressor gene called VHL provided key insights into the body’s response to changes in oxygen levels. He discovered that VHL helps control the levels of a protein known as HIF, which ratchets up or down the response to low oxygen, such as the production of red blood cells and new blood vessels. His subsequent discovery of a molecular switch that renders HIF oxygen-sensitive was critical to the understanding of how cells react to variations in oxygen level.

Lauren Orefice, assistant professor of genetics in the HMS Blavatnik Institute and at Massachusetts General Hospital, has won the Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology, which is awarded to one young scientist for the most outstanding neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology conducted by them during the past three years.

Orefice won for her work on the causes and potential therapies for autism spectrum disorders. She found that peripheral sensory neurons—neurons outside the brain—are key areas where autism-associated gene mutations have a critical impact. She showed how abnormal function of peripheral sensory neurons causes touch over-reactivity and demonstrated how this over-reactivity during development contributes to altered brain function and some autism-related behaviors in mice. Orefice’s work changes how we think about the causes of autism spectrum disorders and highlights peripheral sensory neurons as a possible novel therapeutic target

Fourteen Harvard Medical School researchers have received NIH Director’s Awards from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which is part of the NIH Common Fund, which supports high-risk ideas with potential for great impact in biomedical research from across the broad scope of the NIH.

The awards and winners from HMS are:

NIH Director’s Pioneer Award

Mark Andermann, HMS associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Project Title: Look Inward: Brainstem and Cortical Circuits for Boosting Interoceptive Attention

Andermann’s lab seeks to understand how the needs of the body bias learning, attention and imagery towards need-relevant objects, and how our attention shifts from these external stimuli towards internal body signals. To achieve these goals, the lab employs cellular and subcellular imaging methods to track the activity of specific brain cells in retina, thalamus, cortex, amygdala, hypothalamus and brainstem across weeks as mice seek food, water, mates or safety. A better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms by which the brain and body communicate is of broad relevance to psychiatry, neurology, and medicine.

Sun Hurassociate professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology and HMS associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital

Project Title: Resolving Functional Aggregates: A New Perspective on Innate Immune Control
Hur is interested in biochemical and structural mechanisms of protein-nucleic acid interactions in the immune system. These include innate immune receptors that recognize foreign nucleic acids, and transcription factors that play important roles in T cell development.

Hidde Ploegh, HMS member of the faculty of pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital

Project Title: Imposing Order on the Family of Ubiquitin-Conjugating (E2) Enzymes Through Intracellular Perturbation with Nanobodies

Ploegh’s research focus is the biochemistry of immune recognition, in particular mechanisms by which pathogens and tumors avoid detection by the immune system. He is known for his analysis of the pathways involved in antigen processing and presentation by products of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC); for studies of glycoprotein synthesis, turnover, trafficking and quality-control mechanisms; and for pioneering the use of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) transgenic mice to examine the properties of human MHC products as restriction elements. He has applied peptide chemistry to develop probes to study the activity of the proteasome and ubiquitin-specific proteases, and has utilized bacterial sortases for novel protein engineering applications. He has employed these technologies in the generation of improved cytokines, and most recently, in conjunction with the isolation of camelid-derived single-domain antibodies, in the creation of improved tools for cytofluorimetry and non-invasive visualization of anti-tumor and anti-virus immune responses using positron emission tomography.

New Innovator Award

Jason Buenrostro, assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard

Project Title: Single-Cell Epigenomic and Cellular Plasticity

The Buenrostro lab is broadly dedicated to advancing our knowledge of gene regulation and the downstream consequences on cell fate decisions. To do this, the Buenrostro lab develops new technologies employing approaches across molecular biology, microscopy and bioinformatics. The lab applies these tools to study stem cells in normal, aging and cancer tissues in effort to discover regulators of chromatin structure and their contribution to disease.

Brian Edlow, HMS assistant professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital

Project Title: A Connectome-Based Clinical Trial Platform to Promote Early Recovery of Consciousness After Traumatic Coma

Edlow’s lab at the Mass General Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery is developing tools to detect, predict, and promote recovery of consciousness in patients with severe traumatic brain injury.

Rajat Gupta, HMS instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Project Title: A Genetic Approach to Identify the Common Mechanisms of Vascular Disease

Gupta’s research is focused on identifying new treatments for vascular disease using human genetics to discover the causal biologic pathways.

Ryuji Morizane, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital

Project Title: Recreating Kidney Organogenesis In Vitro with Human Pluripotent Stem Cells

Ryuji has pioneered research in stem cell differentiation and kidney organoids. He directs research groups focused on kidney regenerative medicine, genome editing in stem cells, and kidney disease modeling with kidney organoids.

Seth Rakoff-Nahoum, HMS assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital

Project Title: Positive Selection as a Host Mechanism to Control the Microbiome

Rakoff-Nahoum’s lab is interested in how each member of microbiomes interacts with the environment, each other, and the host and uses genetic, molecular, cellular and computational approaches combined with ecological and evolutionary theory to address these questions.

Sichen Shao, HMS assistant professor of cell biology in the HMS Blavatnik Institute

Project Title: Decoding Ribosome-Triggered Quality Control Mechanisms

Shao’s lab develops methodologies to biochemically reconstitute cellular quality control pathways for functional and structural dissection.

Alexandra-Chloé Villani, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital

Project Title: Deciphering the Achilles Heel of Cancer Immunotherapy

The Villani Lab aims at achieving a higher resolution definition and functional characterization of cell subsets and rules governing human immune response regulation as a foundation for deciphering how immunity is dysregulated in diseases and for developing a comprehensive human immune lexicon that is key to promoting effective bench-to-beside translation of findings.

Courtney Yuen, HMS instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Project Title: New Approaches to Optimizing the Application and Measuring the Impact of Community-Based Tuberculosis Interventions

Yuen’s work focuses on improving the detection and prevention of tuberculosis and evaluating the impact of interventions in this area. She has collaborated with government and non-government programs in Kenya, Peru, Pakistan and the U.S.

Transformative Research Award

Vadim Gladyshev, HMS professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Project Title: Unbiased Identification of Interventions that Extend Lifespan

Gladyshev seeks to define principles of lifespan control and use this information to develop interventions that extend lifespan.

Early Independence Award

Michael Mina, HMS clinical fellow in pathology at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Project Title: Deconvolution and Reconstruction of Immune Histories to Enhance Infectious Disease Prevention and Vaccination Strategies and Optimize Surveillance Efforts

Mina’s lab combines extremely high-throughput serological methods with mathematical and epidemiological modeling to understand dynamics underlying infectious diseases transmission, how immunity develops and persists through life and how to improve epidemic and outbreak surveillance. His research uncovered long-term immunological consequences of measles that delete acquired immunity and increase risk for all other infections for years.

Sol Schulman, HMS instructor in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Project Title: Functional Genetics of Tissue Factor in Bleeding and Thrombotic Risk

The Schulman lab integrates functional genetics, genomics, protein biochemistry and cell biology to identify new mechanisms regulating the initiation of blood coagulation relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of human bleeding and thrombotic disease.

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