The MGH Research Scholars Program

Massachusetts General Hospital and its Research Institute are home to the largest hospital-based research program in the nation. MGH scientists have made countless discoveries that have improved and extended the lives of people worldwide. Not surprisingly, the Mass General Research Institute attracts among the best and brightest biomedical researchers from around the globe.

MGH Research Scholar donor Brit d’Arbeloff (right) visits the lab of d’Arbeloff Scholar Caroline Burns, PhD (left).
But early career researchers with innovative yet unproven ideas – the ideas that will transform medicine of the future – face an uphill battle in applying for and securing funding, which is what makes the MGH Research Scholars program so essential.

Funded 100% through philanthropy, this program gives researchers the freedom and flexibility they need to follow the science wherever it leads. Time and time again, history has shown that brilliant scientists who are given free rein to explore new frontiers are the ones who make the greatest, often wholly unexpected, advances.

Depending on Visionary Philanthropists

Typically, scientists are dependent on funding from agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to carry on their research. Not only does applying for NIH funding take an enormous amount of time that could be much better spent on research – some scientists estimate as much as 30 percent of their time – but the NIH rarely funds projects with little supporting data. “Right now, the NIH, on a national average, funds 17 percent of the grant applications that come in, even though more than twice that number are deemed worthy of funding,” says Dr. Harry W. Orf, senior vice president for research at Mass General.

One mission of the Mass General Research Institute is to provide unrestricted support for exceptional research faculty. But the hospital lacks the resources to do this alone: MGH depends on the support of visionary philanthropists who are willing to partner with brilliant research superstars so they can make discoveries that will move us ever closer to finding new treatments for disease.

This is why, in 2011, the hospital and Research Institute Advisory Council launched the MGH Research Scholars program. This first-of-its-kind program provides five years of support to extraordinary scientists deemed likely to make transformative advances in scientific thinking and medical practice.

“Mass General has so many research superstars. It’s important to identify them, kick-start their research and reduce the time they spend on obtaining funding so they can focus on their important work,” says James I. Cash Jr., PhD, Mass General Research Institute Advisory Council Member

Getting Unfunded Projects Off the Ground

In addition to providing these scientists with an opportunity to make major strides in their work, the funding also enables them to obtain the data needed to secure additional funding from traditional sources. As described by the Weissman Family MGH Research Scholar, Dr. Matthias Nahrendorf, “the MGH Research Scholar award serves as both an airbag to soften the impact of the NIH funding crisis and a turbocharger to get unfunded projects off the ground.”

One of the first to step forward with a gift of $500,000 was James Orr III, a founding member of the Research Institute Advisory Council and former chairman of the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, “I feel strongly about the importance and enormous value of supporting scientific research, and I’m very excited that my gift helped get the program under way,” Mr. Orr said.

Donors who make a gift of $500,000 are offered a naming opportunity whereby an MGH Research Scholar awardee will carry that named title for five years. Donors and named MGH Research Scholars have a unique opportunity to form an ongoing relationship through laboratory tours and special research updates enabling supporters to follow the science as it unfolds.

Kick-starting Research

The MGH Research Scholars program will provide $100,000 per year for five years to each recipient. The program invites applications from Mass General researchers who devote at least 80 percent of their time to research, regardless of their field of study. The program is designed so that the application process is simple and the selection process is objective, thorough and achieves the right balance of support for basic, clinical and translational research.

Applications go through two rounds of review, and the final selection is made by a prestigious awards committee co-chaired by Mass General scientist and Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, PhD, and acclaimed Mass General physician-scientist, Bruce Walker, MD.

As of the spring of 2017, 50 MGH Research Scholar awards have been bestowed. Collectively, since being named MGH Research Scholars, this exceptional group has secured an additional $292 million in grant funding, created 10 start-up companies, published over 1,400 scientific papers, and given over 1,000 national and international talks.

To learn more about how you can support MGH Research Scholars, please contact the Mass General Development Office.