Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholars

Text courtesy MGH Development Office; photos courtesy MGH Photography.

Richa Saxena, PhD

2017-2022 Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar

Richa Saxena, PhD is an Associate Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, and an Investigator in the Center for Genomic Medicine and Department of Anesthesia at Mass General Hospital. She is also an Associate Member at the Broad Institute and an Affiliate of the Harvard Division of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Saxena received her BA in Biology and Chemistry from Cornell University and her PhD in Biology from MIT in 2000. After co-founding a clinical genomics company in India, she pursued her postdoctoral training at Harvard in David Altshuler’s lab in the genetics of type 2 diabetes.

In 2010, she started her independent research lab at Mass General, and received a Mass General Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award. Dr. Saxena’s research has focused on finding genes and biological mechanisms underlying daily rhythms of behavior and sleep disorders, and how the biological clock and sleep protect or confer risk to chronic disease. Her team leads collaborative research that has found genetic differences between night owls or larks, and differences that contribute to sleep disorders such as insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Dr. Saxena’s team is exploring mechanisms underlying new discoveries that circadian rhythm and sleep disorders share genes and pathways with cardiovascular, metabolic and psychiatric diseases and that insomnia is a causal risk factor for depression and coronary artery disease. The lab is also investigating multiple genetic, biological and behavioral links with early neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease that are known to exhibit disruption in sleep patterns. The overall aim of her research is to identify new therapies for sleep disorders, and to define specific disease mechanisms where targeted interventions for sleep or circadian rhythms could be used to prevent, delay or manage related human disease.

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Jacob Hooker, PhD

2016-2021 Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar

Jacob Hooker is an Associate Professor in Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Associate Neuroscientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Directory of Radiochemistry at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.  He holds affiliate appointments at the Broad Institute and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  Dr. Hooker grew up in Asheville NC, received his undergraduate degrees at NC State University and then completed his PhD in chemistry at UC Berkeley under the direction of Professor Matt Francis.  In 2007, he was named Goldhaber Distinguished Fellow at Brookhaven National Laboratory and worked with National Medal of Science recipient, Dr. Joanna Fowler, to develop new imaging methods for neuroscience.  In 2009, Dr. Hooker moved to Boston to begin is independent career at Harvard.  That same year he was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Obama.  The citation from the President noted his strong scientific record and his unique commitment to science mentorship. He has since been recognized by several additional national awards.  Prof. Hooker currently serves as an Associate Editor for ACS Chemical Neuroscience, is a core faculty member for the MIT M+Vision Consortium and the Harvard Chemical Biology PhD program.

Brian Bacskai, PhD

2012-2017 Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar

Dr. Bacskai’s research is aimed at understanding Alzheimer’s disease in the most physiologically relevant model — the intact brain. During the past year, he used the scholar funds to support general research in his lab and to offset the high cost of microscopes and of the aged transgenic mouse models. In addition, he started a new project that has yet to receive funding, requiring a small capital investment, some expensive biological reagents and the recruitment and training of a new postdoctoral fellow.

Dr. Bacskai reports that scientific progress was “excellent” this year. Specifically, he has published some of his most recent work in great journals and has been moving forward with ongoing projects in the lab. Journal articles for several projects are in progress; two have recently been submitted. He feels he has had great success in moving new and early projects forward.

In addition, Dr. Bacskai has been generating new data for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant submission. He will resubmit this R01 application with the new data. Likewise, he hopes to generate enough preliminary data in his new project to apply for funding through the NIH, probably as an R21 application. He believes that a critical component of the Research Scholars program is that it provides the freedom to pursue new ideas and develop an idea into something tangible enough to generate more funds through granting agencies. In his words, “This is a great mechanism to leverage additional funding.”

Dr. Bacskai believes this award has affected him personally in a very positive way. It has raised awareness of his research within his department and the hospital and further validated his approaches and research directions. Moreover, he has begun discussing a new research project, which he is excited about pursuing with another Research Scholar from a different discipline.

Eng Lo, PhD

2012-2017 Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar

Dr. Lo believes his lab has used the Rappaport Research Scholar funds judiciously and bravely to develop the idea of “network neuroprotection.” More specifically, he used this support to perform full gene arrays of neurons subjected to various episodes of metabolic insults. Not only did funding support the principal investigator (PI), but also two young scientists, Drs. Janet Guo and Changhong Xing, whose research is in the same field.

For almost two decades, almost all neuroprotective strategies have focused on single mechanisms and single targets.
Dr. Lo’s basic hypothesis is that this approach will result in neurons that are alive but not normal. His pilot data suggested that by using whole gene arrays, we may be able to catalog entire functional networks of neurons after damage and rescue. This first year, he has continued to build on these data. Via collaborations with the Broad Institute, he is now defining specific gene networks that might be involved in neurovascular injuries after stroke.

Despite dwindling funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the past ten years, Dr. Lo hopes to continue to collect new data and build his case. Eventually, he hopes to present this new “network neuroprotection” idea directly to the director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), where he is currently a Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator. He plans to leverage the Rappaport-supported science into a large new multi-PI grant application within the next two years.

Dr. Lo received the prestigious Thomas Willis Award for basic science investigations and management of stroke from the American Stroke Association at its International Stroke Conference 2013. The Willis Award recognizes an American Heart Association Stroke Council Fellow who has “actively engaged in and has made significant contributions to basic science research (animal/cell models) in stroke.”