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 scientific ‘breakthroughs’ or advancements they are anticipating in 2022. If you’d like to join the conversation, feel free to submit a comment at the bottom of the page.
“The ‘breakthrough’ that I anticipate in 2022 is a broader movement towards systems-level approaches to solving biomedical problems. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we cannot depend on local, post hoc and reactive investigation. We need to create systems that are proactive and global by design, bringing discovery, translation and care closer together in ‘real time’ in the ‘real world.’ Of the hundreds of millions of individuals who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, most of the information on the biology of the disease comes from only a few tens of thousands of patients. We cannot afford to continue using approaches with this low of a yield for future infectious disease pandemics, far less for the major causes of human mortality.” — Calum MacRae, MD, PhD, vice chair of scientific innovation, Department of Medicine
“The extreme inflammatory response to COVID-19 is teaching us a lot about chronic inflammatory diseases, their causes and possible treatments. Post-acute COVID (‘long hauler’ syndrome) is likely a model for many chronic syndromes that we deal with in medicine, especially in rheumatology. Studying these patients will likely bring important new insights for many conditions that are difficult to diagnose and treat.” — Daniel H. Solomon, MD, MPH, physician-scientist, Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation
“Life-long cumulative exposure to elevated levels of blood cholesterol is the one of the main drivers of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Current lipid-lowering therapies are effective, but are limited by long-term adherence. Recently, gene editing has demonstrated enormous potential for therapeutic breakthroughs. I look forward to results of the first early clinical studies investigating single-course gene editing treatments to lower blood lipids and treat the root cause of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.” — Christian T. Ruff, MD, MPH, director of General Cardiology, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine
“In 2022, I am looking forward to a breakthrough in our understanding of metabolism in the human body and how those with obesity store more body fat when they are overeating than lean persons. We know that our environment allows us to overfeed during most meals, especially those who go out to eat ultra-processed food, which is geared towards overeating — and makes you feel less satiated until you eat more calories. In our recent work, we’ve shown that in a controlled situation in the lab, those with obesity store excess calories as fat while those who are lean more often burn it off through futile metabolic proton leaks.” — Caroline Apovian, MD, co-director, Center for Weight Management and Wellness
“I expect that during 2022 we will see increasing disruption in disease management due to the implementation of deep learning algorithms with diagnostic capabilities in various areas of medicine. In the field of nanomedicine, cell/tissue-targeted nanotherapies will offer unique potential to improve the efficacy of treatments while reducing side effects. Lastly, the successful ‘field testing’ of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic means that we can expect to see an explosion of applications for this technology not just to fight pathogens but also to fight cancer.” — Dario Lemos, PhD, principal investigator, Division of Renal Medicine
“In 2022, I think we will see increased implementation of learning health care systems and integration with smart tech in clinical settings. This can relieve many administrative burdens, from better inventory control for medical supplies and improved tracking of biospecimens, to enhanced models for census balance across complex health care systems. This can have the double benefit of improved patient care and higher quality data for clinical outcomes and public health research.” — Molly Jarman, PhD, MPH, principal investigator, Center for Surgery and Public Health
“New tools and methods have always been a critical component for progress in science and medicine. Modern experimental and clinical technologies (e.g., -omics level analytical chemistry, genetics, imaging, electronic medical records, etc.) have set the stage for a revolution in medicine and biomedical research. Key developments in modern informatics and data science that will enable integrating these pieces are about to push biomedicine through a tipping point and into an era of truly integrated, interdisciplinary approaches to solving biomedical problems and optimizing clinical care.” — Bruce Kristal, PhD, principal investigator, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders