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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
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Thursday, November 8, 2007
UMass-Lowell group to study breast cancer and environmental exposure
Researchers exploring connections between breast cancer and environmental exposures will use state funds to study chemicals found in households and the workplace.
The University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the Silent Spring Institute -- a nonprofit that researches the links between health and the environment -- and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition will get $250,000 earmarked by the legislature for the project.
The Silent Spring Institute will continue its work examining household dust for links to cancer, UMass-Lowell will pursue the effects of chemicals at work and at home, and the advocacy coalition will publicize findings they reach, Richard Clapp, adjunct professor in the school's School of Health and Environment, said in an interview.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Boston-Denver team to lead study of COPD
A team of researchers from Boston and Denver will lead a large study of genetic factors and biological mechanisms involved in progressive lung diseases.
Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver are the lead sites for the five-year, 16-center study of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The two hospitals have received $37 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The researchers hope to enroll 10,500 participants, including 3,500 African-Americans. COPD is rising among African-Americans but risk factors in this population have not been adequately studied, according to the two hospitals' news release.
The Harvard School of Public Health, working with Johns Hopkins University, Brigham and Women's and the University of Colorado, will provide statistical analysis.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Northeastern wins Gates grant to fight TB
Northeastern University has won a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fight tuberculosis.
Biology professor Kim Lewis will use $750,000 to identify new compounds to stay ahead of drug-resistant TB strains. The foundation announced eight other grants totaling $18 million for new drug discovery, $200 million for vaccine development and $62 million for new diagnostic tests.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Boston dominates NIH grants to innovators
By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent
Boston-area scientists made a strong showing in two government grant programs designed to spur innovative medical research in an era of tight federal funding.
Sixteen of 41 winners announced today by the National Institutes of Health are from Greater Boston. Half of this year's 12 recipients of the prestigious Pioneer Award work at Boston-area hospitals or universities, and 10 out of 29 New Innovator awards are going to investigators in Boston or Cambridge. Pioneer grant winners receive $2.5 million and New Innovators get $1.5 million, all over five years.
"I think it's a real testimony to the area," Jeremy M. Berg (left), director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, said in an interview today. "Boston is certainly known for having a large number of high-quality educational institutions, like Harvard and MIT, but also many others. These are very much individual-based awards, though, so it's really a reflection of the ability of these institutions to recruit outstanding people."
This is Boston's best showing in the Pioneer competition, now in its fourth year, and only California has come close to Massachusetts' success, accounting for six of the 13 Pioneer winners in 2005. In 2004, Harvard researchers took home two of nine grants. In 2005, one winner was from Massachusetts, and last year four out of 13 scientists, including one from UMass-Amherst, were from the state. This is the first year for the New Innovator grants.
Berg runs the two grant programs under an NIH initiative intended to support bold and unconventional research that could have a big payoff but also has a higher than usual risk of failure and is therefore less likely to receive approval through the traditional grant process. While the Pioneer awards go to researchers at any point in their careers, the New Innovator awards are limited to scientists who are within 10 years of finishing their doctoral degrees or clinical training and who have not yet won NIH grants for their independent research.
Younger scientists have been waiting longer to get their first grants, from an average age of the mid-30s about 10 years ago to their 40s in recent years, a symptom of increased competition for government funding for science that has been declining in real dollars. The NIH budget doubled from 1998 to 2003 but has been flat since, making it more difficult to win new grants and maintain previous support.
The New Innovator competition drew 2,200 applications, Berg said, compared with 450 for the Pioneer awards.
"We expected there would be a strong response, but not this strong," he said. "I don't think anybody would argue that by funding 1.3 percent of the 2,200 applications we got that we're making much of a dent in the demand."
The demand demonstrates the need for a program that supports riskier work, Berg said.
"The motivation for the program was to find a good way to get outstanding young scientists funded earlier in their careers and to encourage people to really work on things they were most excited about rather than being conservative" and working on things that have a better chance of getting funded, he said.
Nir Hacohen of Massachusetts General Hospital, who will study how the immune system senses infectious agents and turns on a response specific to viruses, bacteria or fungi, said the Innovator award he won is what's needed for science to make advances.
"Clearly people are starving for this kind of award," the 40-year-old researcher said in an interview. The current system tends to reward investigators who have already proven their ideas, he said.
Konrad Hochedlinger, 31, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute at MGH, said his Innovator award will help him quickly advance his work in the fast-moving field of stem cell research. He has created a new approach based on work by Japanese scientists to reprogram adult cells into embryonic stem cells.
"It's important that funds be available immediately to get this off the ground rather than waiting for the regular R01 grant," he said in an interview.
Lisa Feldman Barrett (left) of Boston College, who won a Pioneer grant, will study the neuroanatomy of emotions such as anger and fear, pursuing a theory that doesn't fit conventional models. She said she understands how the traditional funding process works.
"It's a very risk-averse strategy, and if people have limited funds it's a good idea, but it can slow innovation and progress," she said in an interview.
Here is the complete list of Boston-area winners, with the NIH description of their research.
NIH Director’s Pioneer Award:
Lisa Feldman Barrett, Boston College professor of psychology, who will study how the brain creates emotional experiences like anger and happiness.
Dr. Emery N. Brown (left), Massachusetts General Hospital professor of anesthesia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of computational neuroscience and health sciences and technology, who will develop a systems neuroscience approach to study how anesthetic drugs act in the brain to create the state of general anesthesia.
James J. Collins (right), Boston University professor of biomedical engineering, who will develop systems biology and synthetic biology approaches to analyze the bacterial gene regulatory networks underlying cellular responses to antibiotics.
Takao K. Hensch (left), Children’s Hospital Boston professor of neurology, who will explore the role of noncoding RNAs in brain development and as a potential treatment for brain disorders.
Dr. Frances E. Jensen (right), Children’s Hospital Boston professor of neurology, who will examine how seizures in early life alter the developing brain and lead to cognitive disorders.
Gina Turrigiano (left), Brandeis University professor of biology, who will develop a very high-resolution microscope for probing the molecular structure of synapses.
NIH Director’s New Innovator Award:
Ed Boyden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology assistant professor of biological engineering, who will invent and study new methods of controlling the neural circuits that malfunction in neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Sarah Fortune, Harvard School of Public Health assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, who will investigate the mechanisms by which tuberculosis escapes the immune system response.
Dr. Levi A. Garraway, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute assistant professor of medicine, who will use a novel genetic and chemical screening approach to identify changes in malignant melanoma tumor cells that could be targets for new treatments.
Nir Hacohen, Massachusetts General Hospital assistant professor of medicine, who will use a new genetic approach to dissect immune system pathways that sense disease-causing agents.
Ekaterina Heldwein, Tufts University School of Medicine assistant professor of microbiology and molecular biology, who will use structural and biophysical approaches to discover, in atomic-level detail, how herpes viruses enter their host cells.
Konrad Hochedlinger, Harvard Stem Cell Institute assistant professor of medicine, who will study the reprogramming of adult mouse and human cells into embryonic cells by defined factors.
Alan Jasanoff, Massachusetts Institute of Technology N.C. Rasmussen Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, who will devise genetically controlled, noninvasive methods for measuring brain activity in animals.
Dr. Mark D. Johnson, Brigham and Women’s Hospital assistant professor of neurosurgery, who will examine the role of decreased synthesis of microRNA in the development and aggressiveness of human cancer.
Alan Saghatelian, Harvard University assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, who will develop advanced analytical chemistry approaches to characterize biomedically important enzymes.
Mehmet Fatih Yanik, Massachusetts Institute of Technology assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who will develop microchip technologies to perform extremely fast studies of gene function in small animals to rapidly identify genetic targets for new drugs.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Northeastern wins grant to explore glycobiology of cancer
Researchers at Northeastern University have won a five-year, $15.5 million grant to study protein and carbohydrate chemistry as a way to detect cancer.
A team led by William Hancock will focus on breast cancer. Previous work has shown that changes in the carbohydrate, or glycan, structures of cells are correlated with cancer, but working with these complex structures has been difficult, according to the National Cancer Institute, which is funding the program.
Northeastern is one of seven centers collaborating on the biomarker discovery project. Hancock will be the co-chair of the Alliance of Glycobiologists.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
BU, Children's win grant to develop minimally invasive heart surgery
Researchers at Boston University and Children's Hospital Boston have won a five-year, $5 million grant to make complex heart repairs possible without open-heart surgery.
Working with California medical instrument maker Mircofabrica Inc., Pierre Dupont of BU's School of Engineering and cardiac surgeon Dr. Pedro del Nido of Children's will develop robotic instruments that can reach the heart through small incisions in the chest and heart walls.
"The goal is to develop techniques where we are not only making just small incisions but actually working to repair defects inside the heart while the heart is still beating," del Nido said in an interview.
Patients would avoid potential complications associated with being on a bypass machine during open-heart surgery, while surgeons would still be able to achieve the precision possible with traditional surgical instruments. The project is primarily aimed at adults with heart disease, although there may be pediatric applications, del Nido said.
The National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Research Partnership award is the second grant for this project, del Nido said. The first grant, now in its fourth year, funded the creation of an imaging system in three-dimensional ultrasound to allow surgeons to see inside the heart. The new grant focuses on creating the tools to perform repairs.
Using real-time imaging, a surgeon will be able to use a joystick controller to guide instruments through the chambers of the heart. Tools could be deployed from the tip of an instrument to remove blockages, fix valves and close leaks in the heart.
Current minimally invasive techniques use catheters to bring devices into the heart, deploying tiny umbrellas to patch holes in the heart or using balloons to clear blockages.
"We view this as the next level of intervention that is in a way a hybrid of catheter-based intervention and open-heart surgery, using the tools of open-heart surgery in the reconstruction but the navigation through a blood vessel or through chambers of the heart while the heart is beating," del Nido said.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Fenway Institute wins NIH grant to study LGBT health
The Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health has won a five-year, $1 million government grant to study the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered population.
Researchers will look at the transmission of HIV, characteristics of families and households, and the demographics of health, illness, disability and death among LGBT people. The funding comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
In addition, graduate students will be trained to study LGBT issues at the Boston University School of Public Health. Researchers will also work with the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan to create an Internet-based library of LGBT health studies that will be accessible to the public.
Co-principal investigators of the grant are Judith Bradford, co-chair of the Fenway Institute, and Ulrike Boehmer, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at the BU School of Public Health.
"We know that health disparites due to sexual orientation exist, but few population-based studies on LGBT health have been conducted and the data are not readily accessible," Boehmer said in a statement announcing the grant.
NIH grants focus on genes and the environment
Seven Massachusetts researchers have won grants from a new government program to study how genes and the environment interact, the National Institutes of Health announced today.
Through the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative, researchers will study the genetics of such diseases as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and tooth decay. To learn about the environmental component, scientists will develop ways to monitor personal exposure, whether to toxins or to physical activity.
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, led by Stacey Gabriel, will receive $3.8 million to become one of two genotyping centers for the initiative. The other is at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Individual investigators and their projects are:
Dr. Frank Hu, Harvard School of Public Health, genes and environment initiatives in type 2 diabetes, $622,000;
Patty Freedson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, development of an integrated measurement system to assess physical activity, $411,000;
Stephen Intille, MIT, enabling population-scale physical activity measurement on common mobile phones, $681,000;
Bevin Engelward, MIT, comet-chip high-throughput DNA damage sensor, $429,000;
Bruce Kristal, Brigham and Womenâ€™s Hospital, mitochondrial, metabolite and protein biomarkers of effects of diet, $454,000;
Dr. Avrum Spira, Boston University, a non-invasive gene expression biomarker of airway response to tobacco smoke, $643,000.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
$21.6m in science grants awarded
The National Science Foundation has awarded $21.6 million in 42 grants to Massachusetts colleges, universities and one educational center.
The grants range from $125,240 to Smith College for a high-performance computing network to $3 million to UMass-Amherst for interdisciplinary research training in cellular engineering.
The Education Development Center in Newton won $199,891 for its program to encourage middle-school girls to see what it means to be a scientist or an engineer.
Here are the schools, awards, projects and directors:
Education Development Center
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Dana-Farber wins genomic research grant
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has won $16 million to explore how viruses and human genetic variations can disrupt cellular networks, causing disease.
The National Human Genome Research Institute will fund a research team led by Marc Vidal, director of the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana-Farber and an associate professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. The group will work with colleagues from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Notre Dame through the new Center of Excellence in Genomic Science.
"We decided to try to see how pathogens are affecting the complex networks formed by our molecules, and relate that back to the genetic differences between individuals," Vidal said in an interview.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Brigham and Women's wins $2m equipment grant
Brigham and Women's Hospital is one of 14 research centers to receive a total of $20.65 million in High-End Instrumentation grants to buy advanced biomedical equipment.
The National Institutes of Health made the one-time awards through its National Center for Research Resources, which announced the round of funding today.
Brigham and Women's, the only research institution in Massachusetts to be named, received the maximum award of $2 million. It will purchase a 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging scanner to be used for navigation during open surgeries, minimally invasive treatments, vascular procedures and thermal ablation of tumors, the NIH statement said.
Previous winners since the program's inception in 2002 have included Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brandeis University, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Brigham and Women's researchers get $6M grant
Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital have won a five-year, $6 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders. The grant will allow them to study hip replacements in Medicare patients, to investigate the genetics of rheumatoid arthritis and to conduct a randomized trial of osteoporosis medication compliance, the hospital said.
Director Dr. Jeffrey N. Katz, associate professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard, and associate director Dr. Elizabeth Karlson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard, will lead researchers from the division of rheumatology, immunology and allergy, the division of pharmacoepidemiology and the department of orthopedic surgery.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
CIMIT gets grant to bring managers and scientists together
CIMIT, or the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, has received a $367,080 grant from Boston Scientific co-founder and director John E. Abele and his family's Argosy Foundation.
The money will be used to help its members collaborate through the CIMIT Forum, the organization said. CIMIT is a consortium of teaching hospitals and engineering schools set up by Massachusetts General Hospital to speed the development of promising therapies.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
$100 million to be spent unlocking the genetic mysteries of mental illness
By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff
It looks to be the largest single gift ever for research into mental illness: The Broad Institute, the genomics powerhouse in Cambridge, announced this evening that it will receive $100 million to figure out the genetics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
It will go mainly to gather and analyze thousands of DNA samples from people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, in hopes of finally figuring out the complex genetics behind the diseases.
That is no easy task. The diseases afflict more than 6 million Americans, and clearly run in families. But the specific genes at work have proven largely elusive. Multiple genes are believed to be involved, and they could vary from patient to patient. Environment, too, plays a role.
But in the last year or so, gene-scanning technology has reached the point that scientists believe they can run studies on a scale large enough to detect the genetic culprits, said Dr. Edward Scolnick, who oversees the Broad's psychiatric research. He wants to gather DNA samples from as many as 10,000 people with each disease, plus 10,000 without.
That DNA then needs to be scanned in its entirety for genes correlated to the disease, and that is where the Broad's expertise comes in.
Its genomic tools have been getting ever faster and cheaper, so that it can now scan a patient's sample for half a million genetic variations at once. In a couple of months, said Eric Lander, the Broad's director, that will be up to a full million.
"If you're looking for a needle in a haystack, and you can sift the whole haystack, you'll find the needle," Lander said.
The Broad is a joint institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Children's to help Somali refugee families
Children's Hospital Boston has won a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to bring mental-health services to Somali refugee families, the hospital announced today.
The $300,000 award will fund mental health programs at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester over the next three years. The project is expected to serve 700 people, including children and their families, the hospital statement said.
The Boston University Graduate School of Social Work is offering two full scholarships to their Master’s of Social Work program to Somali individuals who will provide services as part of their training during the three-year grant period.
Other organizations involved are the Boston Public Schools, Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center, Somali Development Center, The Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention, The Boston Healing Landscape Project and the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Researchers to hunt heart disease clues in WHI data
Boston researchers have won two of 12 two-year contracts from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study major diseases that affect post-menopausal women. The groups will use blood samples and data from the massive Women's Health Initiative to see what factors are important in predicting and preventing heart disease. The 12 grants will total $18.7 million.
Dr. I-Min Lee, Dr. JoAnn Manson and Dr. Howard D. Sesso of Brigham and Women's Hospital hope to tease out the biochemical mechanisms behind physical activity and lower body fat, looking for the way they reduce the risk of heart disease.
Dr. Alice Lichtenstein of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University wants to see how certain biomarkers compare with self-reports of food intake as predictors of heart disease.
Lee's team will focus on inflammatory markers, including c-reactive protein, in blood samples to look beyond known risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
She's interested in the protective effect of physical activity, particularly in overweight people.
"We know it's very hard for people to lose weight once they become heavy, but there are some studies that say even if you are heavy but physically active, you lower your risk," she said. "We want to understand that mechanism."
At Tufts, Lichtenstein will measure certain proteins in blood samples to see how well they predict risk for heart disease. Samples will come from 1,200 women who died of cardiovascular disease during the 15-year WHI study. Those will be compared with samples from 1,200 women who did not die.
She'll be looking for two kinds of fatty acids and two forms of vitamin K that have been associated with either an increased or decreased risk for heart disease: omega-3s vs. trans fatty acids and natural vitamin K vs. the kind formed when fat is hydrogenated.
After seeing if those biomarkers are linked to heart disease, she will compare them with food diaries to see which is the better predictor.
"We'll look at biomarkers to see if they are good predictors of outcome," she said. "If they are actually validated, then they can be used in a broad range of applications.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Alpert gives Brown Medical School $100M, new name
Chelsea native and philanthropist Warren Alpert has given Brown Medical School $100 million. The school changed its name to the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in recognition of its largest gift, Brown announced today.
The money will help finance a new building, a scholarship program, biomedical research, faculty recruitment, two new endowed professorships, and an endowment to promote innovations in medical education.
Alpert is the owner of Warren Equities, which sells fuel and groceries from Xtra Mart service stations and convenience stores.
The Warren Alpert Foundation has made multimillion-dollar gifts to Harvard Medical School and Mt. Sinai Hospital. Xtra Mart employees have raised money for Boston Floating Hospital's fund to help families of children with cancer.
'We wondered who was responsible for curing' ALS
Saying they can't wait for traditional research to bear fruit, two groups fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis will on Thursday toast their joint $36 million drug-discovery venture in Cambridge, a project led by people with personal ties to the disease.
The ALS Therapy Development Institute will have its $6 million annual budget matched by the Muscular Dystrophy Association for three years. The institute, founded in 1999, employs 35 people in Kendall Square but plans to hire 10 to 15 more, said institute president Sean A. Scott.
"Families banded together," said Scott, whose mother died of ALS. "Each of us had a relative with the disease. We wondered who was responsible for curing the disease. At the end of the day, nobody."
For the last five years the institute has screened FDA-approved drugs, looking for possible treatments for ALS. It will continue those tests while also searching for new compounds that might make it to Phase 1 clinical trials, CEO James Heywood said.
Better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease that ends in paralysis. There are about 30,000 people with ALS in the United States.
Heywood's brother Stephen of Newton, who died in November, was the subject of a documentary film called "So Much So Fast."
Jamie Heywood was frustrated by the pace of ALS research.
"If we had decided to go to the moon the way we fund biomedical research, we'd have given $50,000 to 100 people and and wondered why we never got off the sidewalk," he said. "I think there's a need for programs that are rigorous and focused."
The institute describes itself as a "nonprofit biotech company" because of its industry-like approach to finding drugs that combat ALS or developing new ones. It appointed former Biogen Idec executive Steve Perrin as its chief scientific officer. Chairman Augie Nieto, for whom the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Augie's Quest is named, has ALS.
"There's a personal connection," Scott said. "The standards and aggressiveness are completely different when the next person taking the drug is a relative. It's not enough to have something published. It's got to work."