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Grant Spotlight: MGH Catalyst Award Recipients

Early this summer, the Huiying Memorial Foundation awarded our biggest and most ambitious grant to date: the Patricia K. Donahoe Surgeon-Scientist Research Training Fund at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA. This $1M grant is being used to develop a model for the career development and training of surgeon-scientists at MGH, in honor of Dr. Donahoe's exemplary career and research accomplishments.

Within this research training program, there are two types of awards being offered: the Catalyst Award and the Incubator Award. The Catalyst Award is intended specifically to support early-to-mid career surgeon-scientists, while any MGH Department of Surgery faculty member, regardless of seniority, is eligible to apply for an Incubator Award. We will share more about the Incubator Awards in the next blog post.

This year, three Catalyst Award recipients were selected by a panel of MGH veterans, including Dr. Donahoe herself, Chief Research Officer Dr. Eric Liao, Dr. Allan Goldstein, and Dr. Keith Lillemoe. We are happy to announce the recipients of the Award:

Resident Catalyst Award: Richard Guyer, MD, PhD

Dr. Richard Guyer, MD, PhD is a general surgery resident at Mass General, where he is working towards a career in academic pediatric surgery. He received his MD & PhD from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Allan Goldstein, MD's Pediatric Surgery Research Laboratory, where he is using single-cell RNA sequencing and traditional cell biology techniques to understand the transcriptional control of neurogenesis in the postnatal enteric nervous system, which regulates the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr. Guyer’s long-term goal is to become an independently funded surgeon-scientist with a basic science laboratory focused on understanding the normal development and differentiation of neural crest cells. Dr. Guyer believes this will help to understand how developmental perturbations cause childhood diseases, such as neuroblastoma and Hirschsprung Disease. New information from his work may lead to novel therapies.

As a surgical resident, this award will allow Dr. Guyer to continue his research in his sponsor's lab after completing the typical 2-3 years of research and finishing his final years of postgraduate training.

Early Career Catalyst Award: Uma Sachdeva, MD, PhD

Dr. Uma Sachdeva, MD, PhD is a thoracic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She received her MD and PhD in cell and molecular biology through the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Pennsylvania, after completing an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Harvard College. She is a graduate of the Mass General Department of Surgery’s general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery training programs. She practices all aspects of thoracic surgery, with a specific interest in thoracic oncology, including esophageal and lung cancers.

Dr. Sachdeva also leads a lab-based research effort studying the molecular pathways that underlie development of esophageal cancer and its precursor lesions, including Barrett’s esophagus. She is the recipient of the prestigious David C. Sabiston Research Scholarship from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery and the 2021 Research Scholarship from the Thoracic Surgery Foundation.

Mid-Career Catalyst Award: David Pepin, PhD

Dr. David Pepin, PhD, trained as a molecular and developmental biologist at the University of Ottawa, Canada, where he completed a PhD elucidating the role of chromatin remodeling during ovarian development and in ovarian cancers. During his training, David also worked in collaboration with industry, on preclinical testing of novel therapies for ovarian cancer.

In 2011, Dr. Pepin joined Patricia K. Donahoe, MD and the Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories as a research fellow at Mass General to continue his training in ovarian cancer research. This laboratory is evaluating the use of a recombinant reproductive hormone, Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS), as a potential therapy for ovarian cancer. Building on his expertise, Dr. Pepin is conducting preclinical testing of MIS as an adjuvant therapy and working on identifying patients who could benefit most from this treatment.

Dr. Pepin’s laboratory is focused on developing translational approaches to the study of ovarian cancer, particularly for the treatment and prevention of chemoresistant recurrences. His lab has previously shown that the use of gene therapy vectors based on adeno-associated virus serotype 9 (AAV9) can be effective in delivering biologics for long term treatment of chemoresistant recurrences using patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models developed in the laboratory. Those PDX models mimic the current standard of care by considering surgical debulking and chemotherapy and allow him to infer the

variability of patient responsiveness by personalizing to individual patients’ tumors.

Dr. Pepin and his team have shown that MIS is effective in inhibiting ovarian cancer growth. Additionally, his lab has shown that co-treatment with MIS during chemotherapy suppresses ovarian folliculogenesis, thus also preserving fertility during treatment. These applications are being pursued pre-clinically.

HMF and MGH are pleased to offer this Award to Drs. Guyer, Sachdeva, and Pepin, with their spectrum of experience level and research topics, and look forward to seeing how their careers and projects progress.

Stay tuned for the next blog post, in which we will announce the three winners of the Incubator Award!

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