BRIGHT FUTURES PRIZE

Three projects. One winner. $100,000.

BRIGHT FUTURES PRIZE

Three projects. One winner. $100,000.

The 8th annual BRIght Futures Prize Competition features three compelling projects with the potential to solve vexing medical problems. The finalists, all BWH researchers and clinicians, were selected through a rigorous two-step scientific review process.

The BRIght Futures Prizes support investigators across the Brigham Research Institute (BRI) as they work to answer provocative questions or solve grand problems in medicine.   

Read the Q&A with each of the finalists and vote for your favorite project.

Your vote will help decide which of these three projects will receive $100,000 towards their research.

We will announce the winner at Discover Brigham, an event highlighting and celebrating research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 

The event is Thursday, November 7th from 10AM-6PM and is free and open to the public. Visit Discover Brigham to register to attend the event.

FINALISTS

NATALIE ARTZI, PhD

Engineering in Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

MAHMOUD NASR, PhD, RPh

Renal | Engineering in Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

LEO RIELLA, MD, PhD

Renal
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Training an Immuno-Army to Fight Childhood Brain Cancer

NATALIE ARTZI, PhD

Engineering in Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Brain tumors are the most lethal childhood cancer, with a median survival rate of only 9 to 15 months — a measure that has not changed for 20 years. Despite extensive efforts to develop better therapies, there is currently no treatment that can cure brain cancer, which specializes in escaping immune surveillance mechanisms and thus avoids immune-mediated elimination. Since a highly selective membrane protects the brain, the blood-brain barrier (BBB), whose role is to prevent most molecules from penetrating into the brain, it makes it even more challenging for drugs to reach a brain tumor. This means that even higher — and more toxic — doses of a drug may not be very effective for patients with brain cancer.

Our solution is to deliver an adhesive patch that can reveal and kill cancer cells by (1) activating the immune system by using molecules that act as “danger” signals, and (2) delivering these molecules efficiently to the brain by using a material called an adhesive hydrogel, which can be sprayed onto and stick to the brain after surgery. This material allows us to locally release a cocktail of molecules that will activate the immune system while circumventing the BBB.

We plan to harness nanotechnology to form particles at a size of 1,000th the diameter of a single human hair. These nanoparticles specialize in penetrating cancer cells and may be programmed to deliver drugs at a predetermined rate. This technology will ensure that the immune system remains active and that the tumor will not come back.

The BRIght Futures Prize will allow us to take the first steps in making this therapy a reality. We will be able to make the hydrogels and test their safety and effectiveness in a preclinical model of brain cancer. This will allow us to attract the next round of funding to further perfect this technology before we reach patients.

Based on our preliminary results, we are optimistic that our approach can increase the survival rate and minimize the side effects for children suffering from brain cancer. This would benefit individuals with brain cancer, their loved ones and their care teams. We would also like to provide the scientific community with a technology to treat other other solid tumors (for example, breast and lung cancer) and other diseases that can benefit from the local delivery of drugs.

Professor Robert Langer, ScD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Professor Henry Brem, MD
Johns Hopkins University       

One and Done: An Effective Universal Flu Vaccine

MAHMOUD NASR, PhD, RPh

Renal | Engineering in Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a serious public health problem that affects up to one-third of the global population annually and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. There are thousands of strains of the flu virus. Every year, scientists predict three to four strains may be the most common in the upcoming season and reformulate the influenza vaccine (or flu shot) accordingly. As one can imagine, mismatches can occur between vaccine predictions and actual circulating strains. This mismatch can cause a decreased effectiveness of the vaccine and lead to patients getting infected with the flu even after having received the flu shot. Therefore, there is a pressing need to develop an effective and broadly reactive, or “universal,” influenza vaccine against both seasonal and newly emerging strains.

 The  flu virus contains a protein on its surface called hemagglutinin (HA), which enables the flu virus to enter a human cell. HA is made up of a head and a stem. The seasonal flu vaccines target mainly the HA head, which varies from season to season. The HA stem, on the other hand, is highly conserved  — meaning that it remains relatively unchanged.  We propose to develop a universal influenza vaccine that displays part of the highly conserved hemagglutinin (HA) stem, sandwiched between two nanodiscs.

 

Nanodiscs are tiny structures that mimic the membranes that hold all cells together. We engineered nanodiscs that can form a “sandwich” structure so that, when someone receives this flu shot, the immune system gets trained to recognize the HA stem on the surface of the influenza virus.

 

The BRIght Futures Prize will allow me to pursue this idea through funding, visibility and promoting collaboration.

Imagine having to receive a flu shot only once or a few times in your life. This would eliminate the need for millions of primary care and pharmacy visits for influenza vaccine administration. This would prevent hospitals and nursing homes from needing to administer shots to all their patients and staff every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the 2017-2018 flu season in the U.S., there were over 900,000 patients hospitalized with the flu and there were over 79,000 deaths. The increased effectiveness of this vaccine could decrease flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. 

Gerhard Wagner PhD
Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
Harvard Medical School

Rejection and Infection Detection: A Home Test for Kidney Transplant Recipients

LEO RIELLA, MD, PhD

Renal Division
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Despite major advances over the years, the survival of transplanted organs is significantly shortened by delays in diagnosing rejection and opportunistic infections.

Currently, more than 50 percent of transplanted organs fail by 12 years after transplant. Expensive and invasive tests such as biopsies are needed to detect problems with the transplanted organ, while blood tests are, unfortunately, slow to detect organ damage and less frequently performed after the first year of transplant. In addition, many countries around the world lack the resources to perform routine blood tests to monitor for opportunistic infections.

We are developing a novel, inexpensive and sensitive urine test to detect early signs of rejection and opportunistic infections after transplantation, allowing patients who have received a kidney transplant to test their urine at home with results in less than one hour. The three main advantages of this test are:

  • No laboratory equipment required
  • Low cost
  • High sensitivity to detect earlier organ injury

To achieve these goals, we will adapt enzymes known as CRISPR/Cas13 to identify both virus and rejection markers, providing the results in a detection test similar to a pregnancy test. We will use the BRIght Futures Prize to optimize the speed and ease of use of this test and check its accuracy using urine samples from patients who have received kidney transplants.

If we can better monitor transplanted organs, we will be able to identify potential threats earlier and treat patients before irreversible damage has occurred, prolonging the survival of transplant organs. Since more than 100,000 Americans are awaiting a kidney transplant on dialysis and only around 20,000 kidneys are available annually, prolonging the survival of kidney transplants will improve the lives of patients with kidney disease, help reduce the organ shortage and eliminate the need for recurrent transplant surgeries. Furthermore, it will help lower the expenses of dialysis, which currently costs over $35 billion annually in the U.S. alone.

This project involves a diverse team, including
Jim Collins, PhD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Isadora Lape, BS
Brigham Division of Renal Medicine

Michael Kaminski, MD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)