Awards & Recognitions: September 2020

Honors received by HMS faculty, staff and students

Three HMS researchers are among 18 named 2020 Fellows by the American Society for Cell Biology. Selected for their lifetime achievements in advancing cell biology, the fellows will be recognized at the Cell Bio Virtual 2020 online meeting in December.

The three ASCB 2020 Fellows from HMS are:

Robert Farese, professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and professor of molecular metabolism at the Harvard Chan School

David Pellman, the Margaret M. Dyson Professor of Pediatric Oncology and professor of cell biology at HMS and Dana-Farber

Tobias Walther, professor of cell biology biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and director of the Center on Causes and Prevention for Cardiovascular Disease at the Harvard Chan School

Nine HMS researchers were among 150 young scientists recognized as Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigators, which supports the work of early career investigators with innovative ideas for groundbreaking neurobiological research seeking to identify causes, improve treatments and develop prevention strategies for psychiatric disorders.

The BBRF Young Investigators from HMS and their projects are:

Suheyla Cetin Karayumak, HMS instructor in psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will study white matter in working memory and attention networks in large groups of adolescents who were prenatally exposed to cannabis, using machine learning to determine which white matter tracts and dMRI measures in these adolescents are predictive of potential risk for developing psychosis.

Ren-Chao Chen, HMS research fellow in pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, will study epigenetic factor Setd1a, the gene which is mutated in a subpopulation of schizophrenia patients, seeking to clarify its role in postnatal brain development and function with hopes of revealing novel molecular and cellular targets for future therapies.

Xi Chen, HMS instructor in psychiatry at McLean Hospital, will extend past work suggesting that the relationship between neurotransmitter concentrations in the brain’s default-mode network and activities of various functional networks breaks down in first-episode psychosis patients, with hopes of providing a potential path to novel treatment strategies and earlier interventions for psychosis.

Karmel Choi, HMS clinical fellow in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, wants to improve our ability to identify complex psychiatric conditions like PTSD from electronic health record data. The team seeks to genetically validate their PTSD algorithm and to validate known health comorbidities and identify potentially novel associations for genomic and epidemiological follow-up.

Travis Goode, HMS research fellow in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, to further explore how patients with eating disorders process food-related cues, will test the theory that dorsal hippocampus-dorsal LS-lateral hypothalamus (LH) computations, mediated by a class of neurons called LS(PDYN+) neurons, critically govern food-associative memory.

Frankie Heyward, HMS research fellow in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will isolate microglia in order to generate epigenomic profiles of microglia and microglia subtypes in human brain tissue, with an eye to their dysregulation in depression.

Hakan Kucukdereli, HMS research fellow in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will examine, in the interest of making an animal model, the circuit basis underlying key aspects of anorexia nervosa, particularly the learning and willful performance of actions that maintain caloric restriction.

Matthew Sacchet, HMS instructor in psychiatry at McLean Hospital, seeks to contribute to patient-tailored healthcare in psychiatry, known as precision psychiatry, by advancing the brain-based conceptualization and treatment of major depressive disorder.

Jacob Taylor, HMS instructor in psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, seeks to adapt the Schizophrenia Phenotype Inventory for use with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder in the Partners Biobank and to develop a similar instrument, the Bipolar Phenotype Inventory, to extract relevant clinical data on patients with bipolar disorder.

Esther Freeman, HMS assistant professor of dermatology at Mass General, was named by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) as a Patient Care Hero for developing an international registry that tracks the many ways COVID-19 manifests itself through the skin.

Early this year, new symptoms of COVID-19 sparked the need for a system to track the dermatological symptoms of the infectious disease. Freeman and her colleagues on the AAD’s COVID-19 Task Force quickly developed a registry to track and understand how the virus affects the skin, launching it in just eight days. Since April, it has received more than 1,000 submissions from 40 countries, and the findings from the data are helping experts better understand COVID-19 symptoms.

Two HMS faculty members have been named to the 2020 class of Giants of Cancer Care by OncLive and will be honored during a virtual awards ceremony on Nov. 5. The 15 inductees are being recognized for their groundbreaking achievements in oncology research and clinical practice.

This year’s Giants of Cancer Care inductees from HMS are:

George Canellos, the William Rosenberg Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, at HMS and Dana-Farber, was recognized in the category of lymphoma.

Keith Flaherty, HMS professor of medicine at Mass General, was recognized in the category of melanoma and other skin cancers.

A research project led by Wade Harper, head of the Department of Cell Biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, has received Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s Initiative funding to study the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Harper and co-investigators—Brenda Schulman, Ulrich Hartl and Wolfgang Baumeister at the Max Planck Institute in Martinsreid, Germany; Ruben Fernandez-Busnadiego at the University of Gottingen, Germany; and Judith Frydman at Stanford University—aim to elucidate the molecular aberrations in nerve cells that give rise to the Parkinson’s disease.

Specifically, they will focus on how nerve cells purge cellular debris and defective proteins—a process that when gone awry can result in the build-up of toxic proteins inside cells and interfere with cellular function, sparking a cascade of events that culminates in the symptoms of Parkinson’s as well as other neuro-degenerative conditions. The team plans to use powerful molecular visualization techniques to map the disease-causing chain of events triggered by poor protein degradation inside cells and look for ways to correct or improve this malfunction. The ultimate goal of the researchers’ work would be the identification of small-molecule treatment that restore proper protein degradation and prevent disease or mitigate the symptoms of disease once already in progress.

Two HMS researchers are among six pairs of researchers who were named to the 2020 class of Innovation Fund investigators by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Alumni of Pew’s biomedical programs in the U.S. and Latin America, the scientists will partner on interdisciplinary research to tackle some of the most complex questions in human biology and disease to advance innovative research and improve human health.

This year’s Pew Innovation Fund researchers from HMS and their teams and projects are:

Shingo Kajimura, HMS member of the faculty of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess, with Roberto Zoncu, from the University of California, Berkeley, will investigate the molecular basis of inter-organelle communication and energy maintenance. Little is known about the signals that control the breakdown of the organelle—a subcellular unit that has a specific function within a cell, like an organ within the body—in response to shifting mitochondria, which play a key role in managing energy homeostasis in metabolic tissues, including fat adipose tissue. Using a genetically engineered adipocyte model made up of cells that store fat, along with gene-editing technologies, the pair hopes to uncover how communication between mitochondria and other organelles drives homeostasis and identify the potential factors involved in metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes.

Mark Andermann, HMS associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess, with Viviana Gradinaru, from the California Institute of Technology, will map how the brain perceives bodily signals from internal organs—a key mechanism for survival. To better understand how the sensory system relays information from the body to the brain, the pair will track the responses of the brain’s insular cortex to signals from the gastrointestinal tract of mice, including signals that vary when a mouse is hungry versus when it is full. Their work could uncover how the insular cortex promotes well-being and survival.

Janey Wiggs, the Paul Austin Chandler Professor of Ophthalmology at HMS and Mass Eye and Ear, has been selected by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology to receive the 2022 Mildred Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology in recognition of her distinguished scholarly contributions to the clinical practice of ophthalmology.

Wiggs will receive the Weisenfeld Award and present the honorary lecture at the ARVO 2022 annual meeting. Her lecture will also be published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

Paulo Lizano, HMS instructor in psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess, was one of five winners of the inaugural One Mind Bipolar Research Awards for advancement in the understanding and treatment of bipolar disorder.

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