For more than 200 years, Massachusetts General Hospital has been known as a place where promising physician-scientists come to make transformative discoveries. Although much has changed over the past two centuries, the world’s foremost young investigators continue to be drawn to Mass General to change the trajectory of human disease. This is thanks to Mass General’s steadfast reputation as a leading academic medical center and its status as Harvard Medical School’s first and largest teaching hospital.
But these pioneers also come because Mass General invests in creating successful career pathways for clinical and scientific innovators. And that commitment often relies on the help of visionary donors like Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen.
With their recent multimillion-dollar gift to Mass General, the Chens — through their philanthropic organization, the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute — are recognizing the pivotal role that early- and mid-career investigators play in shaping the future of medicine at Mass General.
“The level of science-driven curiosity and interdisciplinary collaboration there sets Mass General and its investigators apart from other hospitals.”
“We’d known of Mass General as a leading academic research institution, but it wasn’t until we met some of their scientists that we truly understood their mission, vision and passion,” says Tianqiao Chen. “The level of science-driven curiosity and interdisciplinary collaboration there sets Mass General and its investigators apart from other hospitals.”
In 1999, Mr. and Mrs. Chen co-founded Shanda Interactive Entertainment, one of the first online entertainment and digital publishing companies in China. In 2012, they transformed Shanda into a privately held global investment firm. Around the same time, the Chens, intrigued by how millions of Shanda’s online community members reacted differently to various stimuli, took an interest in the human brain. They met with experts in neuroscience and heard how recent advances in the field could have an impact on humankind. This led them to create the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute in late 2016.
In this video, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen speak about their support of Mass General.
Traditional research funders, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tend to reward scientific “sure bets,” or principal investigators with well-established laboratories and years of results. History, however, has shown that when early-career investigators receive flexible funding, they are able to more quickly propel the pace of scientific translation for those patients who need it most. The Chen Institute’s philanthropic investment will help advance careers and multidisciplinary collaboration by providing unrestricted funding for early- and mid-career scientists.
“In order to advance discovery and deliver new diagnostic and treatment options for tomorrow’s patients, we need to be able to make careers in academic medical research attractive and sustainable,” says Mass General President David F. M. Brown, MD. “Each year, we see outstanding research proposals go unfunded due to limited grant funding. It means so much to have the recognition and philanthropic support of the Chen Institute. I am certain that their investment will pay dividends across Mass General, as well as the broader research community, and benefit the patients we serve.”
A Continuum of Funding
The Chens’ gift provides two levels of support, designed to create a continuum of funding for some of Mass General’s best and brightest.
For mid-career scientists, the gift will support six MGH Research Scholar awards in the coming years. Fueled entirely by philanthropy, the MGH Research Scholars program is an initiative of the Mass General Research Institute. The awardees, who come from across the hospital, are selected through a competitive application process, and each receive $500,000 ($100,000 per year for five years) in unrestricted funding. Since 2011, a total of 79 MGH Research Scholar awards have been distributed, helping recipients to collectively secure more than $845 million in additional research funding, patent 162 discoveries and celebrate 83 promotions.
The inaugural Chen Institute MGH Research Scholar 2023–2028 awardees are Brian Edlow, MD, a critical care neurologist focused on coma recovery and neuroimaging, and Elaine Yu, MD, MMSc, an endocrinologist and the director of the Bone Density Center at Mass General.
“I’ve dedicated my career to understanding the factors that impact bone health among different populations,” says Dr. Yu, whose research is leveraging existing data sets to provide clinical guidance for osteoporosis treatment. “My research is at an inflection point, and the timing of this award is perfect. I am so grateful to the Chen Institute for its support.”
The gift also funds 10 Transformative Scholar awards in Mass General Neuroscience and the Department of Medicine. The Transformative Scholars program is a two-year program for young physician-scientists with innovative ideas about how to solve some of the most pressing problems in medicine. Awardees receive $75,000 per year — a relatively modest investment, but one that could have significant downstream impact.
The inaugural recipient of the Chen Institute Mass General Neuroscience Transformative Scholar award is Jacqueline Clauss, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist studying individuals at clinical high risk for psychosis, and the inaugural recipient of the Chen Institute Department of Medicine Transformative Scholar award is Long Nguyen MD, MS, a translational epidemiologist working to understand how gut microbial ecology influences human health.
“Scientists are at their most productive, most creative and most fearless when they are young,” says Chrissy Chen. “The idea of supporting young scientists resonated deeply with us. It was the perfect fit for our philanthropic vision and focus.”
The Chens’ gift also includes $500,000 for the MGH Fund, the hospital’s main source of flexible funding.
A Pillar of Collaboration
Headquartered in Redwood City, California, the Chen Institute partners with leading universities and research institutions around the world. Having made their commitment to Mass General, the Chens are creating “Chen Institute Scholar” programs at other leading academic medical centers.
“This is the starting point,” says Tianqiao Chen, who hopes a multi-institution Chen Institute Scholars program will encourage greater collaboration between academic research centers. “We want to help the younger generation achieve its greatest scientific goals, and Mass General plays a very important role in this pillar of our endeavors.”
To find out more about the physician-scientists supported by the Chen Institute, or to support research at Mass General, please contact us.
This story is just one example of the groundbreaking efforts taking place at Mass General, home to the largest hospital-based research enterprise in the U.S. — the Mass General Research Institute. The Research Institute encompasses and provides support to thousands of scientists, hundreds of laboratories, and helps to guide, connect and promote this unrivaled community of investigators as they advance the future of medicine, from the bench to the bedside, to the community and world.