Look Who’s Talking features different voices across the Brigham answering the same question once a month. As the year begins, we asked our experts what exciting (not COVID-19-related) scientific ‘breakthroughs’ they are anticipating in 2021. Feel free to submit a comment at the bottom of the page to join in on the conversation.

“Portable MRI scanners have been an exciting innovation and will make patients’ lives easier in the next years. Artificial intelligence (particularly, deep learning) offers high-quality images with potentially shorter scanning times. Still, we are at the beginning of this journey, but with the advances in AI, I expect further developments in such MRI technologies during 2021.”

— Suheyla Karayumak, PhD, Psychiatry Neuroimaging Lab


“I think one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2021 will be the integrative and more personalized precision diagnostic technologies. There have been significant efforts in developing artificial intelligence, wearable devices, novel biomarker discovery, and sample collection/analysis methods with higher precision. I anticipate that many of the technologies will come to fruition in 2021, saving lives by early detection of diseases, emergency detection, and discovery of new biomarkers.”

— Yuhan Lee, PhD, Department of Medicine, Division of Engineering in Medicine

“With the new Biden Administration, we expect major advances in the Beau Biden Cancer MoonShot initiative with additional breakthroughs in the area of immunotherapy, including immuno-radiotherapy where clinical translation of more effective technologies/approaches will increase access to care and reduce health disparities. Some Brigham technologies at the frontiers of cancer nanomedicine are expected to be part of this. Also, expect to see significant breakthroughs with artificial intelligence, especially with the increased adoption of tele-medicine, which has been accelerated during the time of COVID-19.”

— Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, Department of Radiation Oncology

“After years of struggle and uncertainties, we have just witnessed the birth of therapeutic mRNA as a new type of critically needed vaccine. At the same time, oligonucleotides and siRNA therapeutics are slowly but steadily making their way into clinics. I believe that we will soon see RNA-based and RNA-targeting precision medicine emerging to treat a broad spectrum of diseases, from rare genetic to infectious, cancer, respiratory disorders, and neurodegeneration.”

— Anna Krichevsky, PhD, Department of Neurology, Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center

“In 2021, I predict that we will see a big move towards using a class of drugs for type 2 diabetes, known as SGLT2 inhibitors, in patients with heart failure – including in those without diabetes. This usage will encompass heart failure due to weak heart muscle (systolic dysfunction, or HFrEF) and also heart failure due to stiff heart muscle (diastolic dysfunction, or HFpEF). I also believe there will be an avalanche of data supporting the fundamental role of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in promoting and restoring cardiovascular health.”

— Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH, FACC, FAHA, FSCAI, FESC, Division of Interventional Cardiology

 “The isolation, stress and financial hardship wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered more complex and dire public health challenges with chronic pain. 2021 will see the introduction of innovative, safe and effective precision and integrative medicine interventions to relieve and manage pain.”
— Kathryn T. Hall, PhD, MPH, Director of Basic and Translational Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine


“I believe that artificial intelligence technologies (AI) and machine learning (ML) will have a significant transformative impact on how we live in general and particularly on our healthcare delivery in 2021. The advances in consumer electronics, portable devices, digital capabilities, computing power, and AI technologies have equipped us with powerful tools to begin redefining businesses specifically after the most recent COVID-19 pandemic and shifting the paradigm in care delivery from traditional evidence-based to personalized AI assisted-based medicine. Such AI-enabled solutions will allow us to provide personalized, less expensive, faster, consistent, and more reliable health care services and support to the general public and patients.”

— Hadi Shafiee, PhD, Department of Medicine, Division of Engineering in Medicine

 “I think 2021 will see improvements in neuromodulation therapies such as deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation based on better understanding brain circuits. Once we know which circuit we need to target to improve specific symptoms, we can personalize our treatments to treat the symptoms most bothersome to an individual patient.”

— Michael D. Fox, MD, PhD, Director, Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics


“I’d love to see us use the experience of Operation Warp Speed as a launching point to accelerate work on other vaccines. Infectious diseases such as cholera remain a pressing global health problem, and researchers (at the Brigham and elsewhere) have been developing vaccines against them. My hope for 2021 is that we see tremendous progress in bringing those vaccines forward at a rate that would not have seemed possible before the experiences of 2020.”

—Haley Bridger, Senior Science Communication Specialist, Office of Strategic Communication


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