By Lisa Brown
Egos in BU center take a backseat to sharing, progress, and promise
In the video above, CReM founders Darrell Kotton, Gustavo Mostoslavsky, and George Murphy discuss how they use iPS cells to study disease development, conduct drug screenings, and eventually to correct genetic mutations, with the goal of producing healthy tissues and organs for transplantation. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi
“Our mission is to decrease the burden of human suffering on the planet, help patients, and advance new knowledge.” —Darrell Kotton
With the motto Advancing Science to Heal the World the BU stem cell scientists who founded the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) could be pegged as starry-eyed idealists or scientific superheroes. Or perhaps a bit of both.
CReM codirectors Darrell Kotton, Gustavo Mostoslavsky, and George Murphy have established themselves as venturesome researchers who are willing to share their discoveries with almost anyone. And they do it for free—bucking the prevailing trend to patent, publish, and protect scientific breakthroughs. The trio’s “open source biology” is just one of the things they teach to the next generation of stem cell researchers at CReM.
Open source biology can seem antithetical to scientists in an extremely competitive field. One young researcher training at CReM recently approached Kotton, a School of Medicine professor of medicine, seeking advice on how to answer an outside request for a vial of stem cells that took several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants to develop. The obvious answer, the trainee assumed, was to tell the researcher to wait until the discovery was published.
Kotton saw it differently. “Our mission is to decrease the burden of human suffering on the planet, help patients, and advance new knowledge,” Kotton reminded him. “If this competitor of ours has the same goal, then we’re obligated to share this cell vial with them, because that’s going to achieve our mission.…which is not to get credit and to stroke our egos.”
A naïve response? “Here’s the thing that nobody talks about,” says Kotton. “If you behave in this way, people in our community quickly get the idea that the BU-BMC CReM are the good guys of science. At some point, the equation gets so lopsided that people almost feel embarrassed that they’re not sharing with you and so they tell you stuff, and the whole field starts to move forward.”
In fact, CReM founders say that increasing numbers of researchers are asking CReM to collaborate on grants, and foundations have begun to recognize that funding a CReM project very probably means that resulting knowledge, expertise, and reagents will be shared with other academic or nonprofit laboratories without restriction or exclusivity.
“I can’t emphasize enough how unique that was for the community,” says Mostoslavsky, a MED assistant professor of gastroenterology. “We have dozens of emails that testify to that, saying, ‘I must tell you this is the first time in my 30 years of being a scientist that someone replied and sent me stuff the same week of asking for it.’”
Still, Mostoslavsky says, there is a “fine balance that is not easy to achieve” between freely sharing their work and protecting it once research has advanced to the clinical stage. “That is a major undertaking,” he says. “It’s very expensive—no academic institution can support it—so we do need a company to move forward,” which also means they’ll need patented protection of intellectual property.
Scientific soul mates
Kotton, Mostoslavsky, and Murphy met as Harvard postdoctoral fellows in the lab of renowned stem cell scientist Richard Mulligan, who is famous for his rigorous research and forthright style of mentorship. “It was more of a sink-or-swim methodology, where you really had to prove yourself,” says Murphy, a MED assistant professor of medicine. “Coming out of there, we were battle-tested and bombproof.”
The three gravitated toward each other as “scientific soul mates,” Mostoslavsky says. Long after fellow researchers had left the lab, they would gather for late-night pizza and animated discussions, probing one another’s data to test the strength of their work. “We were each other’s worst critics as well as biggest fans,” Kotton says. It was around that time that they began toying with the idea of conducting science their way—in a meticulous, yet open and collegial manner.
After completing his Harvard fellowship, in 2006 Kotton returned to MED, where he had done a fellowship previously, to launch his own lung stem cell lab. He confesses to “putting psychological pressure” on his friends to follow him to BU, and he is not at all unhappy that it worked. In 2008, Mostoslavsky came aboard, creating his own lab. He was followed soon after by Murphy.
Several events conspired to launch CReM on the Medical Campus. The founders discovered a strong advocate in David Coleman, Wade Professor and chair of the MED department of medicine, who emphasized the importance of a robust research presence on the Medical Campus. Kotton, Mostoslavsky, and Murphy had followed closely the rapid advance of stem cell biology since 2006, when scientists at the University of Kyoto developed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) by reprogramming an adult differentiated cell. A tinkerer at heart, Mostoslavsky was fascinated by the Kyoto process, but felt he could go one better. In 2008, he developed a more efficient tool to generate stem cells, called the stem cell cassette (STEMCCA). BU patented the tool, which has become industry standard.
In 2010, with STEMCCA and multiple publications under their belts, the trio established a virtual Center for Regenerative Medicine, with its own website, seminar series, and iPS cell bank carrying branded labels. All this was accomplished while working in separate labs, with Murphy’s and Mostoslavsky’s divided by floors within a building, and Kotton’s located across the street.
As the number of stem cell biologists, physician-researchers, and biomedical engineers grew on both BU campuses, the affectionately labeled CReM brothers felt it was time to pitch a physical center to BU President Robert A. Brown, who firmly backed the idea. Boston University and Boston Medical Center invested jointly in the endeavor, and in November 2013, CReM opened in its newly remodeled space on the second floor of 670 Albany Street.
In the video above, CReM founders discuss how they use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in their labs.
Clinical trial in a test tube
CReM’s mission is to advance stem cell research and regenerative medicine for the treatment patients, in particular those at BMC, with diseases such as cystic fibrosis, emphysema, sickle cell anemia, and amyloidosis. Investigators collect blood or skin cell samples, usually from patients at the Alpha-1 Center, the Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease, and the Amyloid Center, and reprogram them into iPS cells.
“Any cell can be reprogrammed,” says Mostoslavsky. “It’s a true biological rejuvenation. The cells really go back in time.” Researchers now have the ability to coax iPS cells—which uniformly carry a patient’s genetic mutations—into their desired cell line, such as lung, liver, or blood. (CReM’s iPS cell bank stores at least 13 such cell lineages.) Mostoslavsky says the resulting cells are “still a work in progress,” compared to those found in nature, but the process allows researchers to watch how an iPS-derived lung cell develops the early stages of cystic fibrosis. What took years to unfold in a patient takes days in the lab.
CReM investigators can screen drugs against patient cell lines to determine which medications are most effective for a specific genetic mutation—the “clinical trial in a test tube,” as Murphy calls it. “In theory,” he says, “you could develop therapies that are molded specifically for a particular patient with a particular disease.”
Developmental biology and drug screenings are now CReM’s bread and butter, but its founders keep in mind what they call their long-term “Apollo projects,” such as genetically engineering iPS cells to correct patients’ mutations. The resulting healthy cells could be cultured and multiplied to regenerate a transplantable organ that wouldn’t be rejected by the patient’s body. That particular medical breakthrough would mean Kotton’s wife would need to look for a new job. Camille Kotton is a transplant infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Kotton jokes that his “goal is to put her out of business.”
Kotton has been collaborating with a team of MGH researchers using a technology called lung decellularization and recellularization, which strips the organ of its cells and repopulates it with genetically engineered copies that lack the patient’s original mutation. Theoretically, the reprogrammed cells could multiply, fill the lung’s scaffolding, and someday be used for transplantation.
Kotton, who thinks it will be possible eventually to re-create lungs via 3-D printing technology, is collaborating on this with Christopher Chen, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering.
Meanwhile, Murphy dreams of brewing blood. “The human body makes 2.5 million red blood cells every second of every day,” he says. “How does one contend with that from a research platform?” He thinks they will be able to “harness molecular cues” that exponentially increase the amount of artificial blood they can produce in vitro. Such a discovery could eliminate the need for blood donation in the United States and—even more urgent—in Third World countries, where the practice is not widely accepted.
Another of Murphy’s Apollo projects is boutique blood, or the development of small batches that could be produced for people who suffer from sickle cell anemia or the blood disorder beta thalassemia and require transfusions of rare blood types.
Researcher as healer
In the past four years, word has spread about the CReM founders’ work to the point that as well as the emails from potential collaborators who want access to their work, they now get email from patients who either suffer from the particular disorders they study or have children who do.
The latter are heartrending. “‘We will sign whatever you want us to sign, and we don’t care how experimental your platform is, we would still like to use it to save our kid,’” Murphy recalls reading. He explains that although his team is working hard to find new treatments, right now there are no current stem cell therapies for their child’s condition. Asked when they might be available, he replies, “‘Sooner than you think.’ That’s vague, but it’s hopeful. And it also is the way that we see things.”
Kotton likes to tell a story that underscores CReM’s potential. He and his colleagues were approached about a child who suffered from severe cardiac arrhythmias. Their labs developed iPS cells from the boy’s skin cells and differentiated them into heart muscle cells, then sent them to researchers in New York City, who screened them against a series of drug regimens until they found a winning combination. After three months on the medication, the boy’s arrhythmia decreased from 100 incidents per month to zero.
“This success story represents, I believe, the first human being on planet Earth to be helped by the new iPS cell technology,” Kotton says. “If there is one patient who can benefit from these cells, then surely there are myriad more for generations to come.”
Arguments counter city councilman’s attempt to ban Biosafety Level 4 research
In a discussion whose outcome may determine if Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) will conduct research involving pathogens such as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, speakers for and against research at BioSafety Level 4 (BSL-4) faced off last night at a lengthy Boston City Council hearing on a proposed ordinance to ban that level of research in the city. The ordinance was put forth by Councilman Charles Yancey, who told the standing-room-only crowd that he feared that BSL-4 research could pose a serious risk to the health and safety of the community.
While Yancey and several opponents of BSL-4 research tried to persuade the city council to support the ban, proponents, including Barbara Ferrer (SPH’88), director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), and M. Anita Barry director of the BPHC Infectious Diseases Bureau, argued that reliable safety precautions have been put in place. Representatives of the biotech industry also spoke in favor of BSL-4 research, maintaining that banning BSL-4 research would inhibit the growth of life sciences research in Boston.
Ferrer told the council that Boston has the toughest safety regulations on infectious disease research of any city in the country. She said that while there are 15 labs in the country that conduct research at BSL-4, Boston is the only city whose public health authorities regulate the permitting and inspection of the labs. She said the nine labs in Boston that currently conduct research at Biosafety Level 3 are also strictly regulated by the Public Health Commission. Ferrer told the council that her agency has been preparing for BSL-4 research since 2006 and has trained hundreds of police officers and firefighters to respond to potential emergencies.
Gloria Waters, a BU vice president and associate provost of research, told the council that she cares very much about NEIDL not only in her BU role, but also as a person whose family lives in the area. “BU and Boston Medical Center attract researchers and students who want to make the city a safer place to live,” said Waters. “No research will be classified, and details of all research are open for public consumption.”
Ronald Corley, NEIDL associate director and a BU School of Medicine professor and chair of microbiology, emphasized the promise of a research lab that can bring together expertise in many disciplines, such as chemistry, microbiology, and engineering.
“The great discoveries in science these days are coming from these kinds of multidisciplinary efforts,” he said. “The University’s mission is educating the next generation of scientists.” Corley said the mission of NEIDL is to develop vaccines, diagnoses, and therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases. “The NEIDL is not going to produce biological weapons, and it is not going to do classified research,” he said.
Thomas Robbins, chief of the BU Police Department and executive director of public safety at BU, described the elaborate procedure designed to transport pathogens to NEIDL. He said every delivery is tracked with two GPS devices, one on the delivery vehicle and one in the package containing the pathogen. Robbins also talked about extensive background checks, including psychological screening and drug screening, of all NEIDL employees.
Opponents of BSL-4 research at the hearing argued that safety studies of the lab conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were inadequate, and that NEIDL was constructed in “an environmental justice community” without sufficient dialogue with residents. Roxbury-based community activist Claire Allen claimed that BU failed to adequately communicate with local residents during the initial planning stages of the NEIDL construction. “We have never tried to compete with BU,” she said. “We are the most polite protestors in the world.”
Mel King, a longtime community leader and former executive director of the New Urban League of Greater Boston, said the community surrounding NEIDL was never asked if it wanted a biological research lab in its backyard. King, who repeatedly referred to the lab as a “bio-terror lab,” called for ending all research at all biosafety levels.
Mary Crotty, a nurse attorney for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said she had opposed NEIDL since 2005, and feared that local hospitals were not prepared to handle a “surge” of medical emergencies that might result from an accident.
Construction of the $200 million NEIDL facility was completed in September 2008, but controversy and litigation have kept much of the building’s 192,000 square feet of laboratory space closed. The lab is part of a national network of secure facilities dedicated to the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments to combat emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.
Last year, after legal challenges to a NIH assessment of risks associated with BSL-3 and BSL-4 research, US District Court Chief Judge Patti Saris ruled that a Final Supplementary Risk Assessment was sound, and that such research could be conducted safely at the BU Medical Campus site. The risk assessment examined a series of scenarios and potential consequences of procedural failures, including containment system failures and malevolent acts.
In a 76-page opinion, Saris found that “the NIH provides sufficient scientific support for its ultimate conclusions that the risks to the public are extremely low to not reasonably foreseeable, and the differences between the Boston location and the suburban and rural sites are not significant. In light of the benefits of placing the lab in an urban area like Boston, which provides opportunity for expert medical research collaboration, and the low risk of harm to the public, NIH’s decision is rational.”
In March of last year, the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs gave approval for the lab to conduct research at Biosafety Level 3 and Biosafety Level 4. Since then the lab has received additional required approval for BSL-3 research, and scientists at the lab are now gearing up for BSL-3 tuberculosis research that could someday stem the disease’s lung lesions in humans and prevent TB transmission by coughing. Research at Biosafety Level 4 requires a wait for further approvals from state courts, the Boston Public Health Commission, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An editorial in the April 13 Boston Globe advised readers that passage of Yancey’s ordinance “would be to overestimate any danger that the biolab poses to nearby residents—and to retreat from the singular role that Boston plays as the world’s greatest repository of life-saving expertise.”
The Globe cited the elaborate security measures that protect the lab, including perimeter fencing and walls that would resist truck bombs, auxiliary generators, a requirement that scientists who work in BSL-4 biohazard areas clean up after themselves and assist with medical emergencies that occur in biohazard areas, and elaborate biometric security systems in high-level laboratory areas that require the presence of two scientists, “reducing the possibility that one scientist working alone with pathogens could spirit a vial outside.”
The newspaper also pointed out that Yancey “had been invited more than once to tour the lab but hasn’t yet done so.”
The Boston City Council is expected to decide whether or not to vote on Yancey’s proposed ordinance in the coming weeks.
This BU Today story was written by Art Jahnke. Amy Laskowski did additional reporting for this article.
Approximately 40 students, staff and faculty from Boston University’s Charles River and Medical Campuses performed an impromptu lunchtime concert today for the caregivers at Boston Medical Center to commemorate the anniversary of Marathon tragedy.
The event was personal; some of the musicians were friends with BU student Lu Lingzi, who died from injuries sustained from the bombings and others who were injured at the Finish Line, many from the College of Fine Arts.
The performance, which lasted approximately 15 minutes, included an instrumental performance of Danzon no. 2 by composer Arturo Marquez and a musical and choral performance of “You Raise Me Up.” Watch the video.
According to Moisès Fernández Via, Arts Outreach Program director, “The goal of the event was to provide the BMC community with an unexpected moment of collective shared beauty.”
All BU Medical Campus faculty, staff and students are encouraged to stop by Talbot Green for the fun, interactive BUMC Earth Day Festival.
- Bring hard-to-recycle items: batteries, Styrofoam, printer ink and toner cartidges, etc.
- Bring your bike for a tune-up and free lights
- Bring your old clothes and help us reach our 100 ton donation goal of clothing to Goodwill
Cheer on BMC’s Marathon Team
At noon there will be a Team BMC pep rally for the 104 BMC runners participating in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Don’t miss free food (while supplies last)! Test drive a new Lincoln automobile, receive a gift card and BMC will receive a donation from Lincoln.
BUMC Earth Day Festival
- Thursday, April 17
- 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
- Talbot Green
Study Seeks to Understand Factors Associated with the Use of Harsh Discipline by Mothers Who Have Experienced Trauma
It is known that the use of harsh discipline, such as hitting or screaming at a child, is a risk factor for child abuse and is more common in families where the mothers themselves have a history of trauma. Now researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) have found that such mothers feel most stressed by repetitive child behaviors and report using harsh discipline to try to prevent future behavior problems. The findings, which currently appear online in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, may lead to interventions to promote positive discipline and prevent child maltreatment.
In order to better understand the daily stressors experienced by low-income mothers who had a past history of trauma, the researchers conducted in-depth, one-on-one qualitative interviews with 30 mothers with children under the age of three. After analyzing the data, the researchers identified themes that may increase the effectiveness and relevance of interventions to promote positive discipline and prevent child maltreatment with high-risk families.
“We see our study as a first step in a process to develop specific intervention models to promote positive parenting and prevent child maltreatment in families where mothers have suffered significant trauma,” explained lead author Caroline Kistin, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at BUSM and a pediatrician at BMC. “Our next step is to identify supports that will allow mothers to cope with stress without resorting to harsh discipline or leaving their children unsupervised for prolonged periods; and explicitly address parents’ long-term goals for their children and the impact of different discipline approaches,” she added.
Funding for this study was provided by the Joel and Barbara Alpert Endowment for the Children of the City and KL2TR000158-05.
Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative seeks individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish background for study to speed efforts toward a cure
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) along with Boston Medical Center (BMC) will study individuals with genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD) as one of 32 clinical sites of the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a large-scale biomarker study sponsored by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
PPMI will enroll participants with a known mutation of the LRRK or SNCA [alpha-synuclein] gene. Previous research has shown these mutations are associated with Parkinson’s disease, and account for a greater number of PD cases among certain ethnic populations and families, notably the LRRK2 mutation in those of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish, Basque and North African Berber descent. The insight researchers glean from these research volunteers will fortify current efforts to develop a disease-modifying therapy, something that currently eludes the field.
“Studying individuals with genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s can accelerate our research toward a PD biomarker and more effective treatments,” said Samuel Frank, MD, principal investigator at BUSM/BMC. “Although known genetic mutations currently account for only five to 10 percent of all Parkinson’s cases, this population can provide invaluable information about the intricacies of the disease for all patients.”
PPMI is studying clinical and imaging data and biological samples of people with a genetic mutation to identify biomarkers and speed clinical trials. PPMI will enroll 250 people with the LRRK2 mutation and Parkinson’s and 250 people with the mutation but without Parkinson’s. Since the SNCA mutation is rarer, the study is recruiting 50 people with Parkinson’s and the mutation and 50 people with the SNCA mutation but without PD. These participants will be followed for five years.
Interested individuals can visit www.michaeljfox.org/ppmi/genetics or call 617-638-7745. PPMI is particularly interested in testing individuals of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent with Parkinson’s or with a relative with the disease. The LRRK2 mutation also accounts for more PD cases in people of North African Arab Berber or Basque descent. Study sites will recruit people with the rarer SNCA mutation through familial connections.
Boston University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology was highlighted in a March 28 story “A New Breed of Cancer Researcher” in the journal Science. Learn more about the emerging area of cancer research and how interdisciplinary training at centers like BU’s are playing an important role by clicking here.
All Medical Campus students, faculty and staff are encouraged to share their thoughts in an anonymous survey regarding the University’s engagement with its international student population.
BU’s success in attracting students from diverse backgrounds and around the world has brought a renewed set of challenges and opportunities for self-evaluation and development of the university as a vibrant and fully international global learning community.
Please assist by suggesting the next steps the University can take to support the academic and social engagement of international students while educating all BU graduates for success in today’s global society.
A newly convened Provost’s ad hoc Committee on International Student Experiences and Institutional Impacts requests input and advice from all faculty, staff, and students. The Committee has set up a website http://www.bu.edu/provost/initiatives/iseii/ for anonymous responses to the following questions:
How has the presence of a large international student population affected your work and experience at Boston University?
- Please specify the challenges and suggest opportunities for BU to improve the academic success of a growing international student population.
- Please specify the challenges and suggest opportunities for BU to improve social interactions/dynamics, mutual understanding, and learning opportunities within its diverse student population.
- Please specify the challenges and suggest opportunities for BU to improve support to faculty and staff who work with international students.
- Please describe efforts or success stories related to international students that you would recommend or suggest as best practices, and identify experts or resources of which the Provost’s Committee should be aware.
- Other comments
- Please indicate your BU affiliation: undergraduate student, graduate student, other student, faculty, staff, research staff, other ___________.
- Please indicate your US citizenship status: US citizen, US permanent resident, foreign national (non-US citizen/non-US permanent resident.
In an effort to promote wellness, BU Human Resources is hosting a Wellness Fair on the Medical Campus for faculty and staff. In addition to cardiac screenings there are a wide range of wellness offerings.
Highlights of the fair include:
- Private cardiac screening sessions (Registration required)
- 20 min fitness workshops and cooking demonstrations (Registration required)
- Chair massages, Skin analysis for sun damage, Glaucoma screenings and ergonomics demonstrations
- Select Departments and Schools of BU will provide information on their services
- Healthy refreshments and raffle prizes, including iPad minis
The Wellness Fair is presented in collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield. A representative will be available with information on health and dental plans.
BU Medical Campus Faculty & Staff Wellness Fair
- Tuesday, March 25, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.
- BUSM Instructional Building, Hiebert Lounge
Faculty and staff unable to attend this event may choose to participate in Wellness Fairs on the Charles River Campus.
BU Charles River Campus Faculty and Staff Wellness Fairs
- Monday, April 7, 12:30-5 p.m. and Tuesday, April 8, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.
- Fitness & Recreation Center, 915 Commonwealth Ave., Court 1 Upstairs Gym
Full professorships to six, two join faculty
Six School of Medicine faculty members, whose areas of expertise range from post-traumatic stress disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, and pediatric development to cardiovascular disease, traumatic brain injuries, and cardiothoracic surgery, have been promoted to the rank of full professor.
“We are delighted to recognize the accomplishments of these exceptional senior faculty,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus. “The vigorous promotions process requires national and international recognition of a faculty member’s contributions.”
Antman says faculty promotions are awarded for the quality of both laboratory research and classroom scholarship.
Denise Sloan, formerly an associate professor of psychiatry, has been promoted to full professor. Sloan is researching more efficient ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. “We do have effective treatments for PTSD,” she says, “but they are typically quite time-consuming, with at least 12 one-hour sessions, and they require intensive training for therapists.”
Sloan is intrigued by the resilience of some people in the face of a traumatic event, while others develop PTSD. She believes a better understanding of that difference will inform PTSD treatment approaches.
She points to “the limited number of women at this academic rank,” saying she finds mentoring students extremely rewarding. “I have had outstanding mentors throughout my career, and I view mentorship as my chance to give back to the next generation of clinical scientists. I am particularly committed to encouraging more women to pursue academic careers.”
Sloan is the associate director of education, Behavioral Science Division, National Center for PTSD, at the VA Boston Healthcare System. She is the associate editor of Behavior Therapy and is on the editorial boards of five other scientific journals, including, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and Psychosomatic Medicine. Her research has received funding from several organizations, among them the National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rhoda Au (GSM’95), formerly a research professor of neurology, has been promoted to full professor. Au, an internationally recognized leader in neuropsychology research in cognition, has directed the collection, interpretation, and publication of neurocognitive performance of Framingham Heart Study subjects for two decades. By integrating digital technology into the evaluation process analyzing brain MRI images, she has developed novel cognitive biomarkers, new scoring methods, and standardization of cognitive measures correlated to vascular risk factors. Au, who is taking a leadership role in the study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has been a consultant to China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, advising on a national plan for research on Alzheimer’s disease. She is currently exploring collaborations for the study of nutritional variables involved in brain function and cognition.
Marilyn Augustyn, previously an associate professor of pediatrics, who developed an online training document for Boston Medical Center’s Reach Out and Read program, has been promoted to full professor of pediatrics and division chief of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Her curriculum, which has won international awards, is the core of a training program offered in multiple venues on DVD and as an online CME course.
Michael E. Charness, chief of staff at the VA Boston Healthcare System, has been promoted to full professor of neurology from associate professor. Charness is an expert on the neurotoxicity of alcohol and has defined some of the molecular changes that occur in fetal alcohol syndrome. He developed the first cell culture models to study alcohol’s effects on neural signaling and demonstrated molecular adaptations associated with chronic alcohol exposure. Charness codeveloped and codirects The Other Side of the Bed, an innovative interdisciplinary training program that allows medical students to work as health techs and nurses aides at the West Roxbury Campus of the VA Boston the summer after their first year. The program has been adopted by other VA-medical school affiliations around the country. Charness is scientific director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
Hiran Fernando, a nationally recognized leader in thoracic surgery, has been promoted to full professor of surgery and division chief of cardiothoracic surgery. Fernando, who was formerly an associate professor of surgery, is known for developing new surgical procedures and for leadership in clinical trials and protocol development. His research focuses on minimally invasive CT surgery, including esophagectomy, treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease, thermal ablation for lung cancer, and robotic surgery.
Olga Gursky, director of the department of physiology and biophysics Spectroscopy and Bio-Calorimetry Core Facilities, has been promoted from associate professor to full professor of physiology and biophysics. Gursky leads a research program on the structure-function relationships involved in lipid transport that underlie cardiovascular disease. A highly regarded teacher who developed and teaches a major component of the core graduate level course Foundations of Biophysics and Structural Biology, she has led the Special Topics/Student Seminar, both mandatory components of the Physiology and Biophysics Graduate Training Program. She is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Lipid Research and a peer reviewer for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the American Heart Association study sections.
In addition to those promoted above, two medical experts have joined the School of Medicine faculty as full professors.
Jeffrey Miller, who comes to BU from the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, is a full professor of neurology and of physiology and biophysics. He and his colleagues hope to develop new therapies for currently untreatable muscle diseases. By identifying the molecular changes that cause the loss of muscle function, and then testing methods to restore those pathways to normal, Miller’s lab focuses on finding novel treatment targets or ways to prevent neuromuscular disorders.
“BU provides an excellent combination of intellectual depth, collaborative environment, and support for research,” he says. “I hope that we will contribute to BU’s research excellence.”
Before joining MED, Miller was an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Hemant Roy is a full professor of gastroenterology as well as chief of the section of gastroenterology at Boston Medical Center. Before coming to BU, Roy was a clinical associate professor at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. He is noted for fostering collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians on the development of noninvasive screening tools for gastrointestinal cancer. Roy’s research focuses on cancer risk stratification and prevention using new approaches to cancer screening, such as optical sensing of tissue to detect colon, lung, and ovarian cancers. He recently completed a National Cancer Institute investigator-initiated Phase 2b grant on the ability to predict the outcome of chemoprevention therapy.
This BU Today story was written by Kira Jastive. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.