BWH Clinical & Research News

Research Rumble: A Communication Battle of the Science Stars

Five investigators from BWH and MGH shared their research with the general public as part of the Cambridge Science Festival’s first-ever Research Rumble competition

The challenge was simple: How well could five researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital communicate their work and its potential impact to the general public in just four minutes? On April 20, members of the local community gathered at the Cambridge Public Library for a friendly competition, known as the Research Rumble, to find out.

Hosted by the Brigham Research Institute and Mass General Research Institute as part of the annual Cambridge Science Festival, the event brought together researchers with different areas of expertise to pitch their science to the audience, which included four non-researcher/scientist judges. The judges included Julie Burros, chief of arts and culture for the City of Boston; Carey Goldberg, editor of WBUR’s CommonHealth blog; Mark Abby VanDerzee, co-founder of Company One; and Christine Reich, PhD, vice president of exhibit development and conservation at the Museum of Science.

Marc Sabine, MD, co-director of the Brigham Research Institute, reflects on the feedback from the Research Rumble judges.

Genetic Sequencing in Newborn Babies: Prelude to Gattaca

Robert C. Green, MD, MPH, a medical geneticist and physician-scientist in the Division of Genetics at BWH, opened his four-minute presentation on the BabySeq Project by talking about technology.

Holding up his cell phone, Green asked, “How many of you remember a time before cell phones?” Most raised their hands. “Now, how many can imagine a life without them?” This time, most of the audience shook their heads.

“We’re approaching an explosive revolution in life sciences; greater than technology or these cell phones,” said Green, who is co-leading an innovative project exploring translational genomics and health outcomes for a segment of the population you may not expect … babies.

The BabySeq Project is the world’s first randomized control trial examining the impact of a newborn’s DNA analysis on their future health care. How might we improve the care of newborns if we could deliver personalized care based on each child’s unique genomic sequence? And how can we use that information to develop a blueprint for care for the rest of their lives? The BabySeq Project may just hold the answers.

The judges liked the way Green started his presentation with audience interaction and ended with how listeners could learn more about the future of genomics.

When You Hear Hoofbeats, Think Zebras: The Quest to Cure Rare Kidney Diseases and Beyond

One in three Americans is at risk for a kidney disease. One in nine Americans has been diagnosed with a kidney disease, yet there have been no new therapies for any kidney disease in more than 30 years. Anna Greka, MD, PhD, a physician-scientist in the Renal Division in the Department of Medicine at BWH, asked how this can be.

Greka went on to explain that the lack of therapeutic discoveries for kidney diseases may be due to the desire to find a cure for kidney disease as if it were a single entity. Instead, Greka suggests a “one-to-more-to-all” approach. What does this mean? It means focusing on patients with rare, molecularly defined kidney diseases – the “zebras” – and thinking about targeted therapies for them first.

She told the story of a patient who developed nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disease, and who eventually became the first patient in the world to receive a targeted treatment for her rare disease as a result of Greka’s work.

“The patient’s before-treatment and after-treatment pictures were worth more than a 1,000 words,” Greka said. “In the context of ‘one-to-more-to-all,’ this patient was the ‘one.’”

Other patients in Greka’s ongoing clinical trial for this targeted therapy represent the “more.” Once positive outcomes are achieved over and over again, the findings can be used to develop the combination of molecularly targeted therapies that can cure “all.”

The judges enjoyed the way Greka set up the language she then used throughout her presentation.

So who was the Best Rumbler?

Hear the audience “vote” by applause for a winner.

Both the audience and the judges had the opportunity to weigh in. Using an applause-o-meter app, the audience’s applause level for each storyteller was captured and the “popular vote” went to Green. And after brief deliberation and tallying of the scores on clarity, engagement/interest and impact, the judges named Jonathan Hoggatt, PhD, scientist at the Mass General Cancer Center/Center for Transplantation Sciences at MGH and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, winner of the 2017 Research Rumble for his project on using research to improve the experience of stem cell donors. Hoggatt started by showing a photo of a young patient who had donated her stem cells, but had complications and ended up in the emergency room. The patient story captured the judges’ attention from the start of Hoggatt’s presentation and kept them engaged throughout the more scientific parts.