Mass General, MIT form alliance to address three ‘major challenges’ in healthcare

Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT have formed a $3 million strategic alliance in an attempt to address three “major challenges” that persist in healthcare: improving diagnoses, developing new approaches to prevent and treat infectious diseases and developing more accurate methods of diagnosing and treating neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases. The alliance, officials said, will add further […]

Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT have formed a $3 million strategic alliance in an attempt to address three “major challenges” that persist in healthcare: improving diagnoses, developing new approaches to prevent and treat infectious diseases and developing more accurate methods of diagnosing and treating neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases.

The alliance, officials said, will add further heft to already existing efforts between individual collaborations between the two institutions, particularly as they relate to development of diagnostic tools and therapies.

Arup Chakraborty, a professor of chemical engineering, chemistry and biological engineering at MIT and director of the MIT Institutes or Medical Engineering and Science, said the collaboration addresses “daunting challenges facing human health today,” in a statement.

The new partnership follows a similar effort by the Ragon Institute of Mass General, MIT, and Harvard, which was founded in 2009 to find new ways of preventing and curing human disease through studying the power of the immune system, with an initial focus on the need for an effective vaccine against AIDS.

The two Boston-area institutions will put forth up to $3 million over two years to fund research projects addressing the three aforementioned “grand challenges,” in diagnostics, infectious and autoimmune diseases and neurosciences.

Projects must “have the potential to generate results that could lead to further funding from external sources within a year or two,” officials said. For the first of the challenges, six grants are being funded: two grants covering two years of funding, and four smaller, one-year grants that will be eligible for renewal.

The grants, and the overall effort, also come in response to diminished funding for the National Institutes of Health, which Mass General and MIT hope to augment in at least a small manner, said Harry Orf, Mass General’s senior vice president for research.

The NIH budget fell from $31.2 billion in fiscal 2010 to $30.15 billion in fiscal 2014, according to the NIH.

“The continuing crisis in funding for the National Institutes of Health has shifted the NIH focus from single-investigator grants to collaborative grants, encouraging institutions to look outside their walls,” Orf said in a statement. “By supporting the early stages of these collaborating teams, we expect to strengthen their ability to apply for continued funding from the NIH or other agencies.”

The first series of grant awards were announced in September and will support the following projects:

Larger grants
— Michael Cima (MIT) and Herbert Lin (MGH): Development of a portable, noninvasive device capable of accurately measuring blood volume using nuclear magnetic resonance.
— Anande Dighe (MGH) and Peter Szolovitz (MIT): Use of “machine learning” to analyze changes in a patient’s lab test results over time to facilitate early diagnosis or predict the development of clinical problems.

Smaller grants
— Matt Bianchi (MGH) and Dina Katabi (MIT): Clinical trial of device using wireless signals to monitor breathing without touching a patient’s body for improved diagnosis of sleep apnea.
— Brian Anthony (MIT) and Anthony Samir (MGH): Adaptation of an optical system for localizing the position of ultrasound transducers, which compensates for individual operator differences, to the noninvasive monitoring of tissue loss in chronic kidney disease.
— Sangeeta Bhatia (MIT) and Raymond Chung (MGH): Evaluation of liver-targeting nanosensors for the noninvasive monitoring of liver damage caused by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and other disorders.
— Michael Filbin (MGH) and Thomas Heldt (MIT): Building an archive of data collected from bedside monitoring and the electronic medical record to develop algorithms predicting the transition from sepsis to septic shock.