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buzz of excitement filled the air as BWHers waited in Bornstein Amphitheater to learn the winner of this year’s BRIght Futures Prize at the end of the hospital’s fourth annual research day, formulated this year into Discover Brigham. The day combined BWH’s Research Day and Clinical Innovation Day of past years into one energizing and inspiring event showcasing the breadth and depth of research being conducted at BWH.

Nearly 15,000 people from all 50 states and 96 countries cast their votes for one of three finalists competing for the grand prize of $100,000 to fund their innovative work.

Just after 4:30 p.m., Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, of the Department of Radiation Oncology, was announced as the winner. Ngwa and his team have developed a powerful new technology designed to kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body. The technology combines microscopic nanoparticles with medicine, packed into a tiny drone the size of a grain of rice.

“Thank you so much for this award,” said Ngwa, who acknowledged the other finalists and thanked his family members, who were in the audience. “I was born in Africa, where in many places we don’t have a word for ‘cancer.’ Through this campaign, we have been able to create a lot of awareness and education. I really appreciate what the Brigham has done for me; I cannot begin to express my joy.”

Listen to the family of Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, cheer and sing when he was announced as the winner.

The competition’s other finalists were Christopher Fanta, MD, of the Pulmonary Division, and William Savage, MD, PhD, of the Department of Pathology.

Hosted by the Brigham Research Institute (BRI) and Brigham Innovation Hub, Discover Brigham brought together the BWH and greater Boston health care communities to educate, inspire and foster collaboration around innovative science, technology and medicine. The Oct. 7 day-long event took place during Boston’s first HUBweek—a week celebrating art, science and technology in the city.

Earlier in the afternoon at a trauma research session, Bohdan Pomahac, MD, director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation, was announced as this year’s winner of the Stepping Strong Innovator Awards—a $100,000 grant to advance trauma research and care at BWH. More than 5,000 votes from all 50 states and 74 countries were cast for the competition.

Pomahac and his team have developed a portable machine that may be able to keep detached limbs—arms, legs, hands and feet—alive for half a day or possibly longer. Following traumatic amputation, detached extremities can currently only survive for four to six hours.

“Thank you very much to those who voted for us and a special thanks to the team,” said Pomahac, after accepting the prize. “Nothing could have happened without the hard work of our fellows and the rest of the team, who spent long hours in the lab analyzing results. It is a tremendous honor that we can take this further and push for new therapies for our patients and ultimately everyone.”

BWHC President Betsy Nabel, MD, made a surprise special announcement that competition finalists Su-Ryon Shin, PhD, of the Department of Medicine, and Omid Farokhzad, MD, of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, would also each receive $100,000, from her president’s fund, to pursue their work.

The Stepping Strong Innovator Awards competition was inspired by Gillian Reny, who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Grateful to the BWH team that saved her life and helped her recover, Gillian and her family launched the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund in February 2014.

Was the announcement made by BWHC President Betsy Nabel, MD, a surprise to the Reny family? Hear Audrey Epstein Reny and Steven Reny’s reaction to the Stepping Strong Innovator Awards announcement.

A second $100,000 Stepping Strong Innovator Awards grant will be distributed in a closed-door session later this year.

The Discover Brigham awards ceremony also recognized other members of the BWH research community for their outstanding contributions with Research Excellence Awards and BRI Director’s Transformative Awards.

The following projects were selected for the BRI Director’s Transformative Awards, and each received $500,000:

  • Elazer Edelman, MD, PhD – Controlled Artificial Perfusion of Tissues using Organ Function Markers
  • Richard Lee, MD – Human Rare and Undiagnosed Disease Modeling and Therapeutics
  • Richard Maas, MD, PhD – An Integrated Institution Wide Genomics Pipeline for Disease Gene Discovery

View the list of award winners. View a photo gallery.