With the speed and flexibility of elite athletes, scientists in the MGH Research Scholars program are moving quickly to create solutions for the most pressing problems of the COVID-19 crisis.
Thanks to the unrestricted support from the MGH Research Scholars program, more than a dozen researchers pivoted in recent weeks to work on scientific solutions to help control the pandemic. Launched in 2011, the competitive awards program identifies innovative early and mid-career researchers and supports their most promising ideas with funding of $500,000 over five years.
“I would not have been in a position to lead the Center for COVID Innovation had I not been selected as an MGH Research Scholar.”
The impact of this funding is profound. From 2011 to 2019, this group of scientists has gone on to obtain an additional $496 million in funding, obtained 120 patents on unique ideas and published 2,456 manuscripts. The program is funded exclusively by philanthropic contributions.
Such flexible funding has unleashed the most forward-thinking minds at Mass General to tackle the immense challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Gary Tearney, MD, PhD, Mike and Sue Hazard Family MGH Research Scholar 2012-2017, was selected to co-direct a large coalition of biomedical experts from around the Boston area. to address some of the most pressing needs and questions related to the virus. Dr. Tearney helped launch the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation and the effort quickly began to produce results in the form of better protective devices, tests, treatments and tracking.
“For my part, I would not have been in a position to lead the Center for COVID Innovation had I not been selected as an MGH Research Scholar,” Dr. Tearney says. “The center’s success can be directly traced back to this transformative award and honor.”
A Pivot from HIV to COVID-19
In another extraordinary example, Ingrid Bassett, MD, MPH, an infectious disease expert and a Weissman Family Research Scholar 2018-2023, quickly transitioned from treating and preventing HIV in the U.S. and South Africa to COVID-19 analysis in Boston.
When the outbreak began, Dr. Bassett, a mother of two small children, expected to work from home and continue her research on patients with HIV who might contract COVID-19.
“Instead I got the call from our division chief, to launch a registry of COVID-19 cases,” says Dr. Bassett.
Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease and a Steve and Deborah Gorlin MGH Research Scholar 2015-2020 is an internationally known expert. She is leading the charge to create feasible plans for safely reopening society based on the best science.
In response to Dr. Walensky’s call, Dr. Bassett assembled a team, first within Mass General and then across all Boston hospitals to gather detailed information about each patient with COVID-19, in order to build a large database. This information helps in making local and global decisions about treatment, testing, vaccines and public health advisories.
Lung Cells, Antibodies and More
Creative thinking is leading other MGH Research Scholars in new directions to fight the virus.
“There is no better way to demonstrate the power of the MGH Research Scholars than to see how these innovative researchers pivoted to take on the challenges of a world pandemic.”
- Galit Alter, PhD, Kristine and Bob Higgins MGH Research Scholar 2012-2017 and Samana Cay MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022, is an immunologist at Mass General and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. She leads research that focuses on the number of people exposed to COVID-19 and whether they develop immunity. Her work, which is helping guide the ending of quarantine, is revealing the remarkable diversity of antibodies generated in response to pathogens or vaccines and their abilities to leverage the immune system to fight disease.
- Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, Stuart and Suzanne Steele MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022, is the lead researcher behind the COVID Symptom Study smartphone app. Millions of Americans have downloaded the app that is helping guide rapid, early response at the first signs of symptoms, while shedding light on the nature of the disease. The data provides valuable information that helps bring the pandemic under control and prevent future outbreaks.
- Hakho Lee, PhD, Hostetter MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022, is leading the effort to speed up the laboratory analysis of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, a test that detects active virus particles. He and colleagues are also developing a more rapid and less expensive diagnostic test that detects virus particles.
- Jay Rajagopal, MD, Kevin and Polly Maroni MGH Research Scholar 2014-2019, studies lung cells. Already, he and his colleagues have identified which lung cells have the COVID-19 receptor that allows the virus to infect the cells. His team is also investigating the relationship between smoking and age in COVID-19 patients.
These examples illuminate the power of the MGH Research Scholars program, says Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD, scientific director of the Mass General Research Institute and an Elizabeth G. Riley and Dan E. Smith Jr. MGH Research Scholar 2013-2018.
“There is no better way to demonstrate the power of the MGH Research Scholars,” Dr. Slaugenhaupt says, “than to see how these innovative researchers pivoted so swiftly to take on the challenges of a world pandemic. They are truly inspiring.”
To learn more about how you can support the MGH Research Scholars program, please contact us.
Mass General Research Institute: Saving Lives Through Science
Even more MGH Research Scholars are harnessing the power of this unique program to answer important questions about the coronavirus, including:
- Raymond Chung, MD, Kevin and Polly Maroni MGH Research Scholar 2013-2018
- Stephen Haggarty, PhD, Stuart and Suzanne Steele MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022
- Daphne Holt, MD, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2018-2023
- Cammie Lesser, MD, PhD, d’Arbeloff MGH Research Scholar 2016-2021
- Luana Marques, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2020-2025
- Karen Miller, MD, Laurie and Mason Tenaglia MGH Research Scholar 2018-2023
- Matthias Nahrendorf, MD, PhD, Weissman Family MGH Research Scholar 2014-2019
- Mikael Pittet, PhD, Samana Cay MGH Research Scholar 2015-2020
- Mark Poznansky, MD, PhD, Steve and Deborah Gorlin MGH Research Scholar 2015-2020
- Yakeel T. Quiroz, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2020-2025
- Laurence Rahme, PhD, MSc, MGH Research Scholar 2020-2025
- Miguel Rivera, MD, MGH Research Scholar 2019-2024
- Jordan Smoller, MD, PhD, Tepper Family MGH Research Scholar 2014-2019
- Filip Swirski, PhD, Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar 2016-2022
- Michael Talkowski, PhD, Desmond and Ann Heathwood MGH Research Scholar 2015-2020
To learn more about the Mass General Research Institute, please visit our website.