HMS Junior Faculty Receive 'Funds for Discovery'
Five junior faculty members at Harvard Medical School have been awarded $50,000 each as part of a new program designed to assist young researchers.
The Funds for Discovery program, endowed last spring by inventor and philanthropist John F. Taplin, will support 10 projects involving an issue of biological importance in human biology or medicine each year.
The projects must also have the potential to create new products or devices to attract industrial resources.
Michael E. Greenberg, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and John Blenis, associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology, won awards for projects which lacked direct applications, but which could eventually lead to beneficial products.
Blenis, who studies immune response processes, praised the Funds for Discovery program for its ability to get grants to scientists quickly.
"It provides a rapid source of funding to support ideas that might otherwise take a year or more to get funding," Blenis said.
Roberto G. Kolter, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, Frank D. McKeon, associate professor cellular and molecular physiology and Bruce J. Schnapp, associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology, have all received awards based on potential for practical benefits.
Kolter received his grant for research which could lead to improved antibiotics and even cancer-fighting drugs.
"Seldom do we venture out to this kind of interface between the basic science project and the applications," Kolter said. "The aims tend to be very basic research. This just provides a little bit of extra cash that one needs for potential development."
This year's remaining five awards are expected to be distributed in the next few months.
Valve-Clearing Procedure Found to Be Safe
Balloons aren't just for a party decorations anymore, according to a team of cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Hospital.
A study published in last week's New England Journal of Medicine proves that balloons are the key to a non-surgical procedure which can alleviate often fatal blockages of a valve between chambers of the heart. Blockages, often cause a shortness of breath and fatigue with exertion.
The technique, called balloon mitral valvuloplasty, is performed by introducing a deflated balloon into the heart. The balloon is attached to the end of a catheter inserted into a leg vein. Once guided into a place by X-rays, the balloon is inflated, expanding the valve and clearing the blockage.
A chief advantage over surgery is that the method puts less stress on the patient, since it does not require extensive open heart surgery and the long recovery period often associated with it. In addition, the procedure requires no anesthesia.
A patient who undergoes the balloon treatment can often leave the hospital after only two days, while a surgery patient must usually wait seven to 10 days.
Over a five-year period, the technique proved as effective as valve-replacement surgery in long-term relief of valve blockages in patients suffering the condition.
"The current study is the most comprehensive long-term evaluation of the outcome of the technique," said Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine Dr. Daniel Diver, the paper's senior author. "Now we know it can provide enduring benefit."
In addition to proving the overall success of the technique, the study also create a set of criteria by which doctors can determine the relative benefits of the procedure for a given patient. Patients with near-normal results on three tests and indices of heart condition had a success rate of 84 percent.
Brain Symposium Highlights Neuroimaging
Scientists, doctors, and philosophers gathered last week at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to explore new techniques for examining previously invisible aspects of brain function.
The symposium, entitled "Functional Neuroimaging: Looking at the Mind," provided an opportunity for participants with such diverse backgrounds as philosophy, physics and radiology to see how functional neuroimaging could allow a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of the brain.
"I think we've shown the extent to which a multidisciplinary discipline is really forming," said program organizer Mark S. Cohen, technical director of clinical magnetic resonance imaging and director of hyper-scan imaging at MGH. "It was an opportunity for people to think about how all of these things link together."
"These radiological tools have cut this tiny little hole into that thing that separates the mind and the brain," said Cohen, who is also instructor of radiology at the Medical School. "We're peering through that hole...and trying to make it wider."
While no participants announced major breakthroughs at the conference, Cohen said, speakers "showed us the technique that have in the past-years-and-half become breakthrough.
Four section of the conference allowed participants to observe developing techniques in neuroimaging and how those techniques might be used in treating conditions such as epilepsy.
During the final part of the conference, "Imaging of Cognitive Functions," Harvard Professor of Psychology Stephen M. Kosslyn shared new results in visual and mental imagery.
Kosslyn discussed the process by which the brain calls up images, in particular how reexamination of a visual scene actually activates the visual cortex, the region of the brain which processes visual input.
Cohen hailed the symposium as a success for those involved and expressed hope that it could prove a basis for a functional neuroimaging society in the future.