Campus & Community

Harvard Catalyst grants encourage greater faculty collaboration

4 min read

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are measuring how patients’ posture affects MRI imaging of their breathing.

Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School researchers are developing an open-source translational research network.

Laboratories at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are collaboratively investigating whether polymer bacterial mimics can act as cancer vaccines.

These three highly diverse collaborative studies are among the first 62 to be selected for $3.1 million in funding from Harvard Catalyst, the new pan-University organization supported by a five-year, $117.5 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health — and an additional $75 million committed by the University and the Academic Health Centers

The 62 grants, of $50,000 each, are bringing together 218 investigators from 23 Harvard Schools and academic health care centers. The winners were selected from 607 applications — involving 1,448 researchers — submitted in September.

Lee Nadler, dean of clinical and translational research at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and director of Harvard Catalyst, said it was “astounding” that nearly 10 percent of all Harvard faculty applied. “The grants tapped a strong desire among people to collaborate across departments and institutions,” Nadler said, “and have helped us start to build a community of clinical and translational researchers that spans the University.”

Nadler said the grants will stimulate research in three ways:

• They bring together researchers from different institutions and/or disciplines — people who, in many cases, may never have previously had an opportunity to collaborate — to jointly address important scientific questions.

• They provide the means to generate the preliminary data needed to apply for long-term funding, an important consideration for junior investigators in particular as they work to establish independent research programs.

• They help focus scientific resources and expertise on high-risk, high-impact areas.

“We needed to bring together expertise in radiology, endocrinology, and psychiatry, which would have been difficult to do within any one place,” said Elizabeth Lawson, an instructor at HMS and a pilot grant recipient from MGH. “This grant, and the underlying infrastructure created by Harvard Catalyst, provides a tremendous opportunity for us to collaborate across disciplines and institutions.”

Laura Holsen, another HMS instructor and a co-investigator of Lawson’s from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, added, “Liz and I had met once before, but never had a chance to collaborate until this opportunity came along. Working together, we feel strongly that we can bring about a novel approach to thinking about the neurobiology of anorexia nervosa,” the main focus of their grant.

HMS Dean Jeffrey Flier said the response to the grant program “demonstrates the drive among the faculty to collaborate on unique problems. Watching this process unfold has confirmed my deep conviction that we can most effectively impact human health by encouraging people from across Harvard who have never worked face to face to work together.”

Jonathan Beckwith, American Cancer Society Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at HMS and another of the grant winners, noted that his “lab has, for over 40 years, strictly focused on basic scientific research. Our project, however, will take my lab’s recent findings in E. coli genetics and apply them to both tuberculosis and blood coagulation. The Quad- and hospital-based collaborations needed to conduct this study would not likely have come together without this support from Harvard Catalyst.”

The application window for the next round of Harvard Catalyst Pilot Grants will open in early April. For more information, please visit the Pilot Funding page on the Harvard Catalyst Web site. Harvard Catalyst encourages those considering applying in the next round to contact a Research Navigator with questions regarding the pilot grants.