Awards & Recognitions: October 2023

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

Eight Harvard Medical School researchers have been awarded High-Risk, High-Reward Research program grants by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The program supports investigators at each career stage who propose innovative research that, due to its inherent risk, may struggle in the traditional NIH peer-review process.

The HMS awardees are among 85 recipients who received approximately $187 million in total funding.

The program is supported by the NIH Common Fund, which oversees programs that pursue major scientific opportunities requiring collaboration across the agency to succeed.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program “is a pillar for innovation here at NIH, providing support to transformational research, with advances in biomedical and behavioral science,” said Robert Eisinger, acting director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the NIH Common Fund. “These awards align with the Common Fund’s mandate to support science expected to have exceptionally high and broadly applicable impact.”

Six HMS researchers received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. The award supports unusually innovative research from early-career investigators within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency who have not yet received an NIH R01 or equivalent grant.

The New Innovator Award recipients from HMS are:

  • Felix Dietlein, HMS assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, whose research combines concepts from data science, statistics, machine learning, and genomics to discover targets for new personalized therapies.
  • Lucas Farnung, assistant professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, whose research explores molecular processes at the intersection of chromatin, transcription, and epigenetics.
  • Marco Jost, assistant professor of microbiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, whose research seeks to define the chemical underpinnings of host–microbiome interactions.
  • Michael Miller, HMS assistant professor of pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, whose research focuses on the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases at the single-cell level, with a major focus on the mechanisms and effects of somatic mutation in human neurons.
  • Humsa Venkatesh, HMS assistant professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s, whose research studies the electrical components of tumor pathophysiology and highlights the extent to which neural activity controls and facilitates disease progression.
  • Xin Zhou, HMS assistant professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, whose research focuses on engineering novel biologics for sensing and modulating cancer and immune receptor functions.

Two HMS researchers received the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, which helps exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or completed their medical residency to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

The Early Independence Award recipients from HMS are:

  • Emily Ferenczi, HMS instructor in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, whose research seeks to understand the neural circuit mechanisms that contribute to the diverse symptoms experienced by patients with neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and identify strategies to alleviate these symptoms using targeted neural circuit therapies.
  • Jonathan Tsai, HMS instructor in pathology at Brigham and Women’s, whose research combines functional genomics, biochemistry, and molecular biology to study how hormone receptor degradation regulates hormone signaling and understand how protein degradation impacts transcriptional activity.

The NIH issued eight Pioneer Awards, 58 New Innovator Awards, six Transformative Research Awards, and 13 Early Independence Awards in 2023.

Adapted from NIH press materials.

Ten researchers from Harvard Medical School have been elected members of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).

Membership is extended to individuals who have made major contributions to advancing medical science, health care, or public health. Election to the NAM is considered one of the highest honors in health and medicine

The new members’ “leadership and expertise will be essential to helping the NAM tackle today’s urgent health challenges, inform the future of health care, and ensure health equity for the benefit of all around the globe,” NAM president Victor Dzau said.

The newly elected members from HMS are:

  • Bradley Bernstein, professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and professor of pathology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in recognition of contributions to the understanding of chromatin structure and function.
  • Maurizio Fava, the Slater Family Professor of Psychiatry at HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital and associate dean of clinical and translational research at HMS, in recognition of contributions to the development of many novel antidepressant compounds.
  • David Grabowski, professor of health care policy in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, in recognition of his leadership in and contributions to the field of health economics and his work on the determinants of COVID-19 in nursing home deaths, which resulted in policy changes.
  • Ursula Kaiser, HMS professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in recognition of international leadership in reproductive neuroendocrinology, including the unraveling of genetic and molecular mechanisms controlling pubertal timing and gonadotropin-releasing hormone activation and the regulation of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone secretion.
  • Jeannie Lee, HMS professor of genetics at Mass General, in recognition of research that has been central for understanding the roles of non-coding RNA in gene regulation, including work using X-chromosome inactivation as a model that has uncovered potential therapeutics for diseases such as autism spectrum disorders, Rett syndrome, and fragile X syndrome.
  • Lois Lee, HMS associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, in recognition of foundational research on firearm injuries and being the lead author for the American Academy of Pediatrics 2022 Technical Report/Policy Statement on pediatric firearm injury prevention, leading to thousands of prevented injuries.
  • Mustafa Sahin, HMS professor of neurology at Boston Children’s, in recognition of work in the neurobiology of autism and pioneering translational studies for neurogenetic disorders, including identifying the mechanisms by which tuberous sclerosis leads to neuronal miswiring, leading to the identification of potential therapies.
  • Timothy Springer, the HMS Latham Family Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Boston Children’s, in recognition of research on receptor-ligand interactions and transmembrane signal transmission relevant to immunology, hemostasis, and human disease.
  • Rudolph Emile Tanzi, the HMS Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Child Neurology and Mental Retardation at Mass General, in recognition of work in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease, neurogenetics, and translating pathogenetic mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases into novel therapeutics.
  • Yi Zhang, HMS professor of genetics and the Fred S. Rosen Professor of Pediatrics at HMS and Boston Children’s, in recognition of fundamental contributions to epigenetics through systematic identification and characterization of chromatin-modifying enzymes, one aspect of which has led to a drug approved for epithelioid sarcoma and follicular lymphoma.

Established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine by the National Academy of Sciences, the NAM addresses critical issues in health, science, medicine, and related policy.

Adapted from NAM press materials.

Dennis Kasper, professor of immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and the HMS William Ellery Channing Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has been awarded the 2023 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research.

The award recognizes extraordinary and sustained contributions to improving health care while promoting innovative biomedical research. It is one of the largest awards in medicine and science in the United States.

Kasper was recognized with co-recipients Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University and Jeffrey Gordon of the Washington University School of Medicine for research that has advanced the study and understanding of the microbiome, bacteria, and how they communicate in the body and their role in disease and health.

Kasper was nominated for the prize by Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In addition to revealing molecules that have potential to become disease treatments, Kasper “has provided a central understanding of the vast importance of the microbiome in the development and regulation of the immune system. His work provided mechanistic insights and pathways of exploration for others to investigate the immune and other organ systems,” Fauci wrote in his nomination letter.

Kasper, Bassler, and Gordon received their awards at a ceremony in Albany, New York, on Oct. 5. They will share the $500,000 prize.

Adapted from Albany Medical Center press materials.

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