N. Stuart Harris, an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, is also an active researcher doing groundbreaking research on hypoxia — a shortage of oxygen in the body.
He was on the phone explaining how sound waves move efficiently through water when he made a quick segue only parents are good at. “Walker Harris,” he told his 4-year-old son, “leave your sister alone.”
Emma is 2, the other half of a child-care duo that Harris and his wife, Malinda — an English professor — are responsible for. Their early professional careers are in a classic pressure cooker: too little time and too much to do, both at home and at work.
For Harris, at least, a little help is on the way. He is one of 94 junior faculty members and clinical and research fellows who will be recognized today (Oct. 18) at Harvard Medical School’s Gordon Hall. They are the 2007 recipients of grants from the Eleanor and Miles Shore 50th Anniversary Fellowship Program for Scholars in Medicine.
The program was founded in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of women first being admitted to Harvard Medical School (HMS). Since then, about 500 faculty and fellows have gotten awards, which so far total more than $13 million.
Recipients commonly receive $25,000 to $30,000 for one year. Funds come from about 50 academic, hospital, and philanthropic sources. Most of those eligible are instructors or assistant professors at HMS who have M.D.s, Ph.D.s, or equivalent advanced degrees.
The young scientists typically use the award to take mini-sabbaticals from clinical work, to write, or to finish up critical research.
Harris — officially an instructor in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital — will use the $30,000 to buy himself a month of time away from the emergency department so he can fully pursue his research, along with collaborator Peter Fagenholz.
The one-time wilderness survival instructor (and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate) is using ultrasound to look for diameter changes in the optic nerve sheath. It’s a way of predicting early signs of swelling in the brain that characterize acute mountain sickness.
Harris is also using the ultrasound technique — which he has tested at Everest Base Camp in the Himalayas — to map edema (excess water) in the lung tissue of intensive-care patients.
Many Scholars in Medicine award recipients — young faculty who are not yet independently funded researchers — use the money to hire research assistants.
That’s what Suzy D.C. Bianco did. The extra help freed her up to finish a complex application for her first National Institutes of Research funding, and will make extra writing and research easier for the rest of the year.
Bianco, an instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), is investigating a gene receptor associated with reproduction. She suspects that a mutation in this receptor might be the cause of precocious puberty — the early onset of sexual maturation.
Finding such a mechanism could potentially lead to a treatment for precocious puberty and related disorders, said Bianco. The Brazil-trained Ph.D. in pharmacology is a scholar in a Harvard-wide research program called Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH), which investigates a range of sex-specific clinical vulnerabilities.
Her husband, Antonio Bianco, is a busy BWH researcher too — and at home they have 6-year-old triplets. “If I didn’t have someone helping me,” said Bianco of the year of relief from Scholars in Medicine, “I couldn’t do it.”
Harris is familiar with the same pressures, which he acknowledged in his Shore application — by quoting from “Curious George Takes a Job,” a book read to Walker and Emma: “In the studio George was kept so busy all the time that he forgot to be curious.”
The first few years of a medical career are “inevitably when family things are mounting up and professional things are mounting up,” said Harris, who will also use part of his time to organize HMS’s first Wilderness Medicine Fellowship.
Scholars in Medicine awards are also a short-term financial break for young researchers. The extra money has taken some pressure off Chin-Yu Lin, an instructor in developmental biology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
Lin is an oral biologist, orthodontist, and busy researcher. The Taiwan-born scholar is using mice and dental follicles to investigate bone resorption and osteoprotegerin (OPG), a protein that helps maintain bone height.
But Lin is also the father of 4-year-old twins whose premature birth caused developmental delays and briefly injured his wife, a professional cellist.
“This money will really help us,” he said of the one-year, $30,000 fellowship that will supplement his salary. “My wife had to give up her career to take care of the kids.”
Lin expressed gratitude “to the whole Harvard community” for the help. “I can focus on my job and on my career,” he said. “This kind of support has eased my anxiety a lot.”