Rappaport Connects Gateway |
Follow Us |

On Solid Ground

Dr. Harriott’s primary focuses are on the connection between migraine and ischemic stroke

Andrea Harriott is a Baltimore, Maryland-raised daughter of Jamaican immigrants who once had no college plans.

Today, her name is followed by MD, PhD, she’s an instructor at Harvard Medical School, and she’s an assistant neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital studying the connections between migraine headaches and ischemic stroke in women.

It’s a long and winding journey set in motion and sustained by a brilliant, curious and creative mind. And it has been aided in large measure, she will tell you, by the 2017 Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Fellowship.

“It’s a phase where you’re transitioning between being mentored to being an independent scientist, and that transition can produce a lot of attrition,” she said. “For many people, that transition is kind of like walking across quicksand, but the Rappaport Award added cement to the quicksand. It solidified that foundation for me.”

And to think it may not have happened if not for one fortuitous coin flip.

The future Dr. Harriott was a high school junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, only recently having decided she should go to college at all, when she needed to choose between engineering and biological sciences, the two subject areas BPI was best known for. The tossed quarter came up biology, and that’s the direction in which she’s been headed ever since.

She applied to one college: Morgan State University, just a short distance down Cold Spring Lane from her high school. She received a full scholarship. She fell in love with neuroscience. She received her bachelor of science degree in biology in 2002.

That was followed by a MD-PhD earned at the University of Maryland-Baltimore. It was while studying at the dental school at UMB, in fact, that she developed an interest in studying head and neck pain, and then more specifically migraine pain, where the focus of her research remains today.

And in 2017 while at MGH, during that typically vulnerable stage as junior faculty, Dr. Harriott received a substantial vote of confidence and critical financial boost in the Rappaport Fellowship.

“That’s where people may fall off,” she said, “when they either can’t gather up enough funding to be able to maintain their research career or they don’t have enough protected time to generate enough experiments to move forward.”

With that financial foundation cemented in large part by the Rappaport award, she has been able conduct the laboratory work which consumes the majority of her time.

In the neurovascular lab, two of Dr. Harriott’s primary focuses are on the connection between migraine and ischemic stroke; and why migraine is more commonly found in women. In medical parlance, she uses an optogenetic technique to elicit electrical events responsible for migraine aura in rodents as a non-invasive model of chronic migraine to discover sex and hormonal influences on migraine pathobiology.

And while the financial component of the Rappaport Fellowship was professionally enabling, Dr. Harriott is just as grateful for the sociological component of the recognition.

“There are not a lot of African-American females doing neuroscience work, so it also helps with representation, frankly,” she said. “When I talk to other underrepresented minority residents and med students, and even high school students that come to MGH, it is a good experience for them to see a faculty member that looks like them, so they know they can do it as well.”

She has developed a deep appreciation for the Rappaport family and its larger mission of elevating young leaders across the fields of medicine, public policy and the arts.

And while the financial component of the Rappaport Fellowship was professionally enabling, Dr. Harriott is just as grateful for the sociological component of the recognition. “There are not a lot of African-American females doing neuroscience work, so it also helps with representation, frankly,” she said.

“A lot of how we see ourselves in society relates to whether or not we’re healthy, to whether or not we have social justice, to our experience and expression in the arts,” she said. “All of that creates the fabric of our experience as humans, our humanity.

“The Rappaport Foundation has a broad impact on the fabric of humanity, not just on the biological sciences, which I think is really, really important.”

facebook
twitter
linkedin