BRIGHT
FUTURES
PRIZE

The 7th 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.

You can visit the Brigham Research Institute website to learn more about the history of the BRIght Futures Prize and its past recipients.

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 Wednesday, November 7th from 12-6PM and is free and open to the public. Register to attend at DiscoverBrigham.org

FINALISTS

The Open Anatomy Project

MICHAEL HALLE, PhD

Department of Radiology
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Anatomy atlases – illustrated, annotated collections of anatomical knowledge – are a cornerstone of modern medical training and education. Doctors depend on them throughout medical school and their professional practice to guide critical medical decisions every day.

However, today’s anatomy atlases don’t live up to their full potential. Atlases can be very expensive and aren’t always translated into local languages, which limits their availability in countries or regions where medical training is desperately needed. Individual atlases from a single publisher also don’t reflect different expert viewpoints about our ever-evolving understanding of human anatomy.

We are developing an entirely new type of anatomy atlas: An open, ever-growing, easily accessible library of anatomical knowledge built by a global community of expert physicians, researchers and illustrators. This online resource will be available to anyone, anywhere, for any purpose, for free. 

We want to revolutionize the anatomy atlas the same way that Wikipedia revolutionized the encyclopedia. Our atlases are the product of the collective knowledge and experience of experts throughout the world, rather than relying on just a single medical authority. This approach will allow us to publish atlases created and edited by leading anatomists based on the latest high-resolution medical imaging. Our atlases can explain typical anatomy, normal variations, and even disease.

Anyone can access our atlases using an ordinary web browser, making them instantly available to practicing physicians, medical students and the public throughout the world.  What’s more, all the information in each atlas – including three-dimensional models of organs, medical images and descriptions – can be used as building blocks for new atlases and for new applications we cannot yet imagine.

We already have developed a core collection of atlases by medical experts from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, including a highly detailed atlas of the brain, available on the web at openanatomy.org. But this is just the start. We want the Open Anatomy Project to be home for the world’s most useful, accessible and up-to-date anatomy information.

The Open Anatomy Project will deliver essential medical knowledge to places it’s needed most: regions of the world where traditional atlases are currently not available.

We have colleagues in the major teaching hospitals in Senegal, Mauritania and Mozambique ready to use our atlases and software tools to train the next generation of Africa’s doctors.

The BRIght Futures Prize will enable us to meet the teaching needs of our African partners. Working closely with them, we will adapt our atlases for their curriculum. We will translate our atlases, software and documentation for each country. And we will improve our software tools to work well in classrooms that don’t have access to high-speed internet.

This opportunity will allow us to make Open Anatomy widely available throughout the world.

Ron Kikinis, MD, Founder and Director, Surgical Planning Laboratory (SPL), Department of Radiology

Sonia Pujol, PhD, Research Scientist, SPL, Department of Radiology

Marianna Jakab, MS, Research Manager, SPL, Department of Radiology

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Making the Invisible Visible
Bringing Intimate Partner Violence into Focus

BHARTI KHURANA, MD

Department of Radiology
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), defined as physical, sexual or emotional violence between partners or former partners, is a critical public health issue and widely prevalent. One in four women and one in seven men have reported experiencing severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime in the U.S. IPV has both short- and long-term negative health consequences, and even childhood exposure to IPV has been linked to adverse mental and physical health effects in adults. Half of female homicides between 2003 and 2014 have been linked to IPV. Despite how often IPV occurs, many victims think they are alone, and cases can go unreported for decades.

The medical community could play a vital role in detecting IPV early and preventing its perpetuation. But IPV can be a very difficult subject to raise with a patient. Also, IPV happens mostly within the confines of the home and evidence is mostly elusive. Although questionnaires about safety have helped, the proportion of identifiable IPV cases to date only represents the tip of the iceberg. There is more that we as radiologists can do by looking specifically for early signs of IPV and providing opportunity to offer preventive services.

We are creating new tools to empower clinicians to identify patients who are experiencing IPV. Our goal is to develop an integrated system that uses patterns derived from expert analysis of historical imaging and clinical data, detects and classifies injuries for their likelihood of being as a result of IPV, and automatically alerts clinicians if a patient’s injuries have low or high-risk probability for IPV.

To do so, we plan to use machine learning, that is teach a computer program to recognize signs of IPV based on radiological and clinical findings from known IPV cases. This will give us a comprehensive picture and help generate a checklist to identify those most at risk. In addition, our multidisciplinary team will design conversational guides and training for social workers and clinicians to approach the patients who are identified as being at high risk for IPV but are not forthcoming.

Intervening early means preventing adverse physical and mental consequences that result from IPV. With funding from the BRIght Futures Prize, we will be able to take the next step toward identifying radiological findings and clinical risk factors in patients with documented IPV.

Our goal is to give clinicians the tools, classification models, statistical evidence and alert systems for greater confidence and robustness in findings, empowering them to open a dialogue with their patients about IPV. We hope that this will have a ripple effect, changing the lives of patients and their families; changing the role of the medical community in identifying IPV; and breaking the silence around IPV in our society.

George Dyer, MD (Residency Program Director, Orthopedics); Annie Lewis O’Connor NP, PhD (Director CARE Clinic, Women’s Health); Kathryn Rexrode, MD, MPH (Chief, Women’s Health); Steven E. Seltzer, MD (Chair Emeritus, Radiology); Giles W. Boland, MD (Chairman, Radiology); Marta Chadwick (Program Director, Passageway);Hanni Stoklosa, MD, MPH (Emergency Medicine); Mark Michalski, MD (Executive Director, CCDS); Katherine Andriole PhD (Director, Research and Operations CCDS); William Berry, MD (Associate Director, Ariadne Labs); Mitchel B. Harris, MD (Chairman Orthopedics, MGH)’ Paul Tornetta, MD (Chairman Orthopedics, Boston Medical Center).

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Time to Heal Chronic Wounds

MORTEZA MAHMOUDI, PhD

Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Non-healing, chronic wounds, such as bedsores and diabetic wounds, can create a wide range of devastating problems for patients and their families. The poor healing process of chronic wounds after trauma, surgery or acute illness affects millions of people worldwide. The death rate for patients suffering from chronic wounds is alarmingly high. For example, half of patients who have diabetic-related amputations will die within five years of the procedure. The associated costs – more than $30 billion annually in the U.S. alone – are another major issue. Despite extensive efforts in the development of therapeutic strategies, there is currently no effective treatment to heal chronic wounds. This is mainly because the proposed approaches use a single factor or cellular component to try to solve the complex problem of tissue repair.

Chronic wounds have three main issues that obstruct the body’s normal healing process:

  • The absence of a suitable environment in which cells can easily travel, rapidly multiply and form new blood vessels
  • The rise of bacterial infection
  • Unbalanced and prolonged inflammation in the wound site

Our solution is to address all three issues with one wound-healing patch, which delivers several therapeutic factors to restart the body’s paused wound healing process. This patch contains a cocktail of biomolecules that can help cells reach the site of a wound and create new blood vessels. It also mimics most of the skin’s characteristics.

We plan to harness the power of nanotechnology – the science of the super tiny – to help heal wounds. The specific nanotechnology we are using includes nanofibers – fibers that are 1,000th the diameter of a single human hair. We can use these nanofibers to help newly immigrated cells feel at home and also release tiny particles that can alert the immune system to act when they detect infection in the wound site. Finally, we have a biomolecule to temper long-term inflammation and prevent negative consequences, such as scar formation.

Based on what we’ve seen so far in our models and in early results for carefully selected patients who suffered from chronic diabetic wounds and bedsores, we are extremely optimistic that this approach can substantially reduce the pain and increase the survival rate of patients who are dealing with non-healing wounds. But we need to keep testing. That’s where the BRIght Futures Prize comes in. With funding from this award, we’ll be able to:

  • Test the patch’s healing capacity on other wounds
  • Monitor how effective it is at minimizing the risk of infection and consequent amputation
  • Increase the likelihood of successful translation of this technology into clinical practice.

If safe and effective, our patch would improve the lives of patients and their loved ones.

Several clinicians and bioengineers at BWH, Massachusetts General Hospital, Emory University, and Universidade de Santiago de Compostela

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