The Happy Hour Tour of Boston’s Reasearch Centers

by Marina Komarovsky

Boston is sometimes called a city of colleges and hospitals, and unsurprisingly so,because education and health care are consistently ranked among the top industries in the city. Their prevalence brings with it the requisite associated establishments: pubs and health research centers. Let’s go on a quick tour of a few.

If you wander into the straight-forward dive bar ambiance of Beacon Hill Pub, located –quite appropriately — in the historic neighborhood of Beacon Hill, and contrasting — quite starkly — with its classy neighborhood surroundings, you may run into some young research types from the nearby Mass General Hospital. This hospital sports its own in-house research center, which happens to be the largest of its kind in the U.S. Scientists pursue five cutting-edge “thematic areas” of research: regeneration of damaged tissues, systems biology, computational biology, photomedicine, and genetics. Research takes place in the lab as well as via carefully designed clinical trials with patients. Friedman student Carlota Dao applied here post-undergrad and worked as a research technician in the Center for Regenerative Medicine, collaborating with one of the post-docs on stem cell research. The content and techniques she learned, she explains, were key in her choice of lab to complete her thesis work at Friedman.

Amble down the scenic Charles Street, past the Frog Pond skating rink in Boston Common, and into Sweet Water Cafe to enjoy a beer, quality bar fare served until 1am, and a conversation with a researcher or two from the Tufts-affiliated Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) or the John Hancock Center on Physical Activity.If you haven’t spent much time inside the HNRCA, it is basically paradise for anyone interested in nutrition: its fourteen floors house more than twenty different labs, all relating to diet and health. When you ask one of the researchers whom you have engaged in conversation where he or she works, you may hear mention of elevator conversations about walnuts and blueberries, and the researcher with whom you are speaking may excuse him or herself to go give the mice their daily megadose of vitamin E as part of an experiment investigating how this will affect their ability to withstand respiratory infections. Connections between laboratories are one of the most exciting aspects of the HNRCA. “The collaboration between the Bone Metabolism and Nutrition, Exercise, Physiology, and Sarcopenia labs was very interesting in that the study looked at the entire musculoskeletal system in the context of vitamin D metabolism,” says PhD candidate Lara Park, who is working at the HNRCA and looking at this vitamin in relation to epi-genetics and colon cancer for her thesis.

Only a block away on the second floor of the Jaharis building, researchers at the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention conduct investigations through the Children in Balance and StrongWomen programs. You may have heard of “Shape Up Somerville: Eat Smart. Play Hard.” This outreach intervention took place 2002-2005 in the nearby city of Somerville and focused on preventing obesity among elementary school children. This program was exemplary in its thorough post-intervention evaluation — essential to good research — which showed that program activities produced substantial, positive results.

Last happy hour stop: the Squealing Pig, just down the green E line in the Longwood Medical Area. Despite its name, this cozy British-style pub boasts some pretty good vegetarian fare, along with opportunities to interact with a good mix from a number of research centers. You might, for instance, bump into someone from the Joslin Diabetes Center, located down Longwood Ave. Their work is closely linked to the current obesity epidemic because obesity is a major risk factor for the development of type II diabetes. Scientists at Joslin strive to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of different components of diabetes and its complications, to develop of new therapies, and to gain insight on how to best provide counseling, education, and support.

Just across the street, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute is a hub for the newest in research on another disease that is infamously prevalent in our population. Here, scientists do groundbreaking work in finding ways to improve the treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of cancer, advancing the quality of care at different stages, and conducting collaborative research on immune responses during cancer as well as AIDS.

Of course, our tour is far from comprehensive. The list includes other hubs like the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center research facilities on brain stimulation, vascular biology, and transplant science; the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center with member centers at a number of academic institutions, the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and public health research centers like the internationally-focused Boston Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. For example, Friedman student Amelia Reese found this latter organization on idealist.org and participated in compiling a document search engine relating to issues of gender and security in the Middle East. Basically anywhere you go, start that conversation, and you will have an opportunity to hear about some exciting research and even to network. Boston is definitely the place for the health sciences as well as a good after-work drink.

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