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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Driving and dementia: when to take the keys

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease does not automatically mean an end to driving, experts on aging said at an MIT conference today, but because there is no test to determine when people with dementia should no longer get behind the wheel, families need help deciding when to take away the keys.

"All people with Alzheimer's will eventually be unable to drive," said Robert Stern, co-director of Boston University's Alzheimer's Disease Clinical and Research Program. "That does not mean they can't drive early on in the disease. Everyone has a different course. It steals cognitive skills at a different pace."

Caregivers say their loved ones with Alzheimer's are driving an average of 10 months longer than they think is safe, gerontologist Jodi Olshevski of The Hartford said. The insurance company collaborated with MIT's AgeLab and BU to find ways to help caregivers spot -- and then deal with -- the warning signs of trouble.

Family members helped test workshops and written materials that explained how to assess driving skills and how to start the discussion about ending driving. Today the group released a new version of "At the Crossroads," first published in 2000. The booklet for families and materials for support group leaders are available free through The Hartford.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:08 AM

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Boston group to share genetic data on autism

A Boston group is sharing genetic information from families affected by autism with other researchers to promote understanding of the developmental disorder.

The Autism Consortium, whose members include hospitals, medical schools and universities in the Boston area, will transfer profiles of 500,000 genetic variations found across the genomes of 700 families with two or more children who have autism. The data will be held by the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, a program of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Scientists can apply to the exchange, which gathered DNA from the families. The samples have been scanned for sequences where there are deletions or extra copies of DNA segments. The consortium is sharing the genetic variations it found.

"We returned all of the raw data to AGRE so they can distribute it to any other investigtors who want to begin exploring what may be the genetic underpinnings of autism," Mark Daly, a consortium member from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in an interview. "Understanding the genetics underlying a complex disease is not an easy problem to solve. So there's no excuse for hoarding your data when much more can be learned by sharing."

Only a small percentage of autism arises from a recognizable genetic cause, such as Fragile X syndrome, Daly said. Recent research suggests that some families with autism might have higher rates of genomic abnormalities, but very few of these abnormalities have been conclusively identified.

"There's very strong heritability to autism but very little of the heritability has been explained by specific mutations of specific genes," he said. "What we hope is that this data is a starting point. We need to perform collaborative research in the spirit of the Human Genome Project to deliver on the trust the public has placed in us."

Members of the Autism Consortium are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Boston University, Boston University School of Medicine, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge Health Alliance, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McLean Hospital and Tufts-New England Medical Center.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:37 AM

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who needs sleep?

Just as weary but exhilarated Red Sox fans head into the World Series on two days' rest, the New York Times devotes its Science section to the subject of sleep.

“To do science you have to have an idea, and for years no one had one; they saw sleep as nothing but an annihilation of consciousness,” Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, told the Times. “Now we know different, and we’ve got some very good ideas about what’s going on."

Boston researchers are prominent in the story, beginning with cognitive neuroscientist Robert Stickgold of Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He and postdoctoral student Matthew Tucker are studying the effect of naps on memorized words. Matthew Wilson of MIT is investigating what happens to mice cells when they record memories. Subimal Datta of Boston University School of Medicine is looking at the chemicals that bathe the brain while we sleep.

“During waking we have a thousand things happening at once, the library is filling up, and we can’t possibly process it all,” Datta says in the Times story. “It’s during sleep that we have this special condition to clear away this overload."

Something to sleep on before tomorrow night's Game 1.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:34 AM

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Notables

David H. Koch, an MIT alum and prostate cancer survivor who earlier this month pledged $100 million to build a new cancer research center at MIT, will donate $5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation for an initiative using nanotechnology. Four research institutions will collaborate on ways to use the technique, in which tiny particles are designed to attack tumors but spare normal cells, according to the foundation. Dr. Omid Farokhzad of Brigham and Women's Hospital is the principal investigator, Robert Langer of MIT will lead engineering and manufacturing for the project, Dr. Philip Kantoff of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Prostate Cancer Program will head clinical research, and Dr. Neil Bander, an antibody expert, will direct a group from the Weill Cornell Medical College.

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff of the MassGeneral Hospital for Children has won a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a trial to help protect children from second-hand smoke by encouraging their parents to quit smoking. The study is based on a pilot program that targeted parents in their children's pediatrician's office. Fifty pediatric practices are being recruited through the American Academy of Pediatrics' Pediatric Research in Office Settings network.

Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, and Lita Nelsen, director of MIT's Technology Licensing Office, have been named 2007 Biomedical Research Leaders by the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research. Flier was honored for his commitment to diabetes and obesity research and medical education, according to the nonprofit society, whose members include universities, hospitals, research institutes, and biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Nelsen was recognized for managing 500 new inventions per year from MIT, the Whitehead Institute and Lincoln Laboratory.

Dr. Joseph Vacanti, chief of surgery at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children, has won the 2007 John Scott Award for his work in tissue engineering. Since 1834, the awards, administered by a board acting for the city of Philadelphia, have recognized inventions that contribute to mankind's "comfort, welfare and happiness," according to the board. Vacanti's work combines engineering and biology to develop substitutes to help tissue or organs function. He shares this year's prize with Dr. Albert J. Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who is being honored for his work to understand and treat eating disorders.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:50 PM

« WSJ: MIT donor ties cancer center gift to timetable | Main | Local researchers win grants to explore human genome »

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

MIT gets $100m gift to build cancer center

A $100 million gift from an MIT alumnus and prostate cancer survivor will establish a new center for cancer research, the university announced today.

The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research will bring together scientists and engineers in a new building scheduled to open in 2010. Koch, a billionaire executive at the Wichita energy and manufacturing company Koch Industries, called bringing together geneticists, cell biologist and engineers a new approach, according to a statement from MIT. Koch has given millions to other cancer centers, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"Conquering cancer will require multi-disciplined initiatives and MIT is positioned to enable that collaboration," he said in the statement distributed by MIT. "As a cancer survivor, I feel especially fortunate to be able to help advance this effort."

The MIT center will be led by biologist Tyler Jacks and will house the laboratories of approximately 25 MIT faculty members, including star scientists Angelika Amon, Phillip Sharp, Angela Belcher and Robert Langer.

The center's opening date is an accelerated schedule demanded by Koch, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal summarized below.

The cancer center is part of a $750 million expansion announced by MIT last fall that includes an apartment complex for graduate students, more space for the Media Lab and growth for the Sloan School of Management and for the School of Architecture and Planning.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:52 AM

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WSJ: MIT donor ties cancer center gift to timetable

david%20koch%20mit.jpgBillionaire David Koch (left), who is battling prostate cancer, agreed to give $100 million to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a cancer research center -- but he made the gift with a condition, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal.

To get the entire gift, MIT had to agree to build the $280 million center whether or not it has raised the full 80 percent of funds that it usually wants in hand before it breaks ground, the Journal story says.

Koch estimates that under the "crash basis" schedule, MIT will shave 18 months to two years off the building process. "They were going to do it over five years," Koch, an MIT alum and board member since 1988, told the Journal. "I said that is too long."

MIT President Susan Hockfield said building a new cancer center was already under discussion.

"I agreed to accelerate because the opportunities [in cancer research] are enormous right now," she told the Journal.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:30 AM

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Five Boston researchers named to Institute of Medicine

Five Boston researchers have been elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine, a prestigious group established by the National Academies of Science to analyze health issues and make recommendations on policy.

Among the 65 new US members, five are from Massachusetts (four from Harvard, one from MIT), three are from Connecticut (all from Yale) and one is from New Hampshire (Dartmouth). The current 1,538 active members chose new members from candidates nominated for achievement and commitment to service, the IOM said in its announcement of new members today.

The Massachusetts members are:

Dr. Emery N. Brown, professor of anesthesia, department of anesthesia and critical care, Massachusetts General Hospital; and professor of computational neuroscience, health sciences, and technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. William G. Kaelin Jr., investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and professor, Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dr. David T. Scadden, professor of medicine and co-chair, department of stem cell and regenerative biology, and co-director, Harvard Stem Cell Institute; and director, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

Jonathan G. Seidman, professor of genetics, Harvard Medical School

B. Katherine Swartz, professor of health economics and policy, department of health policy and management, Harvard School of Public Health

The three new members from Connecticut are:

Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean, Yale University School of Medicine

Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz, professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health, and professor of internal medicine, Yale University School of Medicine

Dr. Mary E. Tinetti, professor of medicine, epidemiology and public health, and director, Yale Program on Aging, Yale University School of Medicine

New Hampshire has one new member:

Jonathan S. Skinner, professor of economics, Dartmouth College, and professor of community and family medicine, Dartmouth Medical School

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:44 AM

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Ig Noblesse oblige

nobel%20ice%20cream%20300.bmp

Nobel laureates (seated, from left) William Lipscomb,
Robert Laughlin, Craig Mello, Roy Glauber and Dudley
Herschbach taste Ig Nobel-prize winning ice cream
flavored by vanillin derived from cow dung.

(Kees Moeliker / Annals of Improbable Research)

You had to be there.

At last night's Ig Nobel prize ceremony, paper airplanes, pointless chicken references and acceptance speech poems sailed through Harvard's Sanders Theatre. The mood was part Mardi Gras, part Marx Brothers as the Annals of Improbable Research induced real Nobel laureates to play along with real scientists whose published work first made people laugh, and then think, journal editor and master of ceremonies Marc Abrahams said.

There was sword-swallowing, natch, from the Tennessee winner Dan Meyer, who studied sword swallowing's side effects. There was ice cream from Toscanini's made, so the real laureates were told, using Japanese Ig Nobel winner Mayu Yamamoto's formula for deriving vanillin from cow dung. Craig Mello, last year's Nobel winner in medicine, was the first to dip his spoon into his dish as the crowd chanted "Eat it!"

There was 2005 physics Nobelist Roy Glauber, wearing a Chinese straw hat and wielding a twig broom, sweeping paper airplanes off the crowded stage as he has done for 10 years of Ig Nobel celebrations.

And there were chicken and/or egg costumes made out of black garbage bags that Mello, Glauber, and their good-natured peers Dudley Herschbach (chemistry 1986), William Lipscomb (chemistry 1976) and Robert Laughlin (physics 1998) climbed into and burst through on cue.

You had to be there.

But there's another chance to enjoy the merriment: At 1 p.m. tomorrow, the Ig Nobel winners will make presentations in MIT Building 10, Room 250. Check out their prizes and real references.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:46 AM

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Notables

Researchers from Boston and Cambridge have won two of three prizes for young cancer investigators.

Angelica%20Amon100%202.bmpToddGolub100.bmpAngelika Amon (left) of MIT and Dr. Todd R. Golub of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT will receive the 2007 Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The prize recognizes contributions to understanding the treatment of cancer made by scientists under the age of 45.

Amon studies how chromosomes segregate during cell division and Golub uses genomic approaches to classify subtypes of cancer. They will share a $150,000 prize with the third winner, Gregory J. Hannon of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who studies the biology and biochemistry of RNA interference. All three winners are also Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:31 PM

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Children's group building online medical records for major employer group

A group from Children's Hospital Boston has been hired by a corporate consortium to develop online medical records for their employees.

Dossia, a group of eight major employers including Wal-Mart and Intel, chose the Children's Hospital Informatics Program to adapt its own program called Indivo to provide secure health records for 5 million employees and their dependents and retirees.

The Children's program, which also has ties to Harvard and MIT, has been working for 10 years to create Web-based records for patients that include a lifetime of health information across different doctors and care sites. The Dossia goal is to allow its workers to have access to their medical records, to communicate with their doctors, and to pull together information from different sources, the group said.

Dossia does not disclose details of its contracts, Colette Cote, a spokeswoman for member Pitney-Bowes and Dossia, said when asked about the financial terms of the agreement with Children's. The other companies in Dossia are AT&T, Sanofi-aventis, Applied Materials, BP America Inc. and Cardinal Health.

Indivo will be introduced at Children's this fall and Dossia plans to roll out its version to some members by the end of the year, its statement said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:06 PM

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Berwick and Herr win Heinz awards

Two Cambridge innovators are among five winners of $250,000 awards from the Heinz Family Foundation for their achievements in medicine and science, the foundation said today.

donald%20berwick%20100.bmpDr. Donald Berwick (left), co-founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, won in the public policy arena. His organization has been central in the movement to increase patient safety through efforts to make healthcare systems work better. The 100,000 Lives campaign, followed by the 5 Million Lives effort, set goals to improve care in hospitals.

hugh%20herr100%202.bmpHugh Herr (left), MIT professor and director of biomechatronics at the MIT Media Lab, won in the technology, the economy and employment category. He studies human movement, how it is controlled and how to engineer human-like structures, including prostheses for amputees and wrap-around devices for people who have suffered strokes.

"My philosophy is that there are no disabled people in the world. There are only technologies that haven't been invented yet or technologies that don't work," Herr said in an interview yesterday. He calls himself an end-user because both his legs were amputated. "We should not accept disability and society should always continue to work toward technological interventions that bring us closer to being sure no one has to live with a disability, whether cognitive or physical."

Yesterday Berwick said he might use his grant to advance IHI's work in developing countries, where the organization has been applying the same principles that work to reduce infections in hospital ICUs to ways that keep women from dying in childbirth in remote villages in Malawi.

"We take very good science around public health and then empower local groups to implement that science," he said. "The same improvement methods that are getting traction in wealthy countries can have tremendous effects in developing countries."

The other winners of the Heinz awards, named for Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania and selected by the foundation chaired by his widow, Teresa Heinz, are:

Dr. David L. Heymann of Geneva, assistant director general of the World Health Organization, in the human condition category

Dave Eggers, San Francisco author and founder of the 826 Valencia writing laboratories, in the arts and humanities category

Bernard Amadei of Boulder, Colo., founder of Engineers Without Borders -- USA and -- International, and Susan Seacrest of Lincoln, Neb., founder of the Groundwater Foundation. They are co-recipients in the environment category

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:35 AM

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Friday, September 7, 2007

MIT scientists devise new way to deliver gene therapy

Scientists at MIT have created a new way to carry genes into cells that they believe will be safer than the viruses commonly used to deliver gene therapy.

Gene therapy inserts new genes into patients' cells in the hope of fighting genetic disorders or cancer and other diseases. Viruses have been the vehicles for the new genes in clinical trials, but the method carries risks. In 1999, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died during his involvement in a viral gene therapy trial for liver disease; and this summer a patient in an arthritis gene-therapy trial died several days after being injected with viral therapy.

The group at MIT formed biodegradable polymers, or chains of molecules, to bring new genes to their targets. Their results appear this week in Advanced Materials.

"What we wanted to do is start with something that's very safe -- a biocompatible, degradable polymer -- and try to make it more effective, instead of starting with a virus and trying to make it safer," Jordan Green, a graduate student in biological engineering and a co-author of the paper, said in a statement released by MIT.

They tested the polymers in mice and hope to eventually bring the polymers into human clinical trials, MIT said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:30 AM

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

UMass Medical School recruits two RNA stars

ambros85.bmpMelissa%20Moore2%2085.bmpUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School has hired two leading RNA researchers to join a group best known for Nobel Prize winner Craig C. Mello.

Victor R. Ambros (far left), who discovered molecules called microRNAs that are important in gene regulation, is leaving Dartmouth Medical School for UMass, and Melissa J. Moore, noted for her work with gene splicing and messenger RNA, is coming from Brandeis University.

"Wow, they got the A Team," Phillip A. Sharp, an MIT Nobel laureate, said in an interview today. Moore previously worked in his lab and Ambros worked in the lab next door.

Ambros, 53, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at MIT, where he also did postdoctoral work. While at MIT he worked with two other Nobel winners: David Baltimore on the poliovirus genome, and H. Robert Horvitz on the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.

When Ambros joined the faculty of Harvard, Mello was a graduate student in his lab. Mello won the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology with Stanford's Andrew Z. Fire for discovering RNA interference, a natural mechanism that silences genes.

It was Mello who called Ambros about coming to UMass, Ambros said in an interview.

"There's really a great convergence of bright people and exciting problems" at UMass, he said. "When I heard Melissa Moore was planing to move there, that was sort of the clincher."

Moore, 45, is a Howard Hughes Investigator who has made major contributions to understanding how RNA is edited by the cell to make sure it is intact, Sharp of MIT said.

Moore said she was recruited by UMass professor and RNA scientist Phillip D. Zamore, who also worked in the Sharp lab at MIT.

"I think UMass is just really at an exciting stage of its growth and there is a tremendous community already there for the kind of research I do in RNA and what Victor does as well," she said in an interview.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:56 PM

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

NIH grants focus on genes and the environment

Seven Massachusetts researchers have won grants from a new government program to study how genes and the environment interact, the National Institutes of Health announced today.

Through the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative, researchers will study the genetics of such diseases as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and tooth decay. To learn about the environmental component, scientists will develop ways to monitor personal exposure, whether to toxins or to physical activity.

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, led by Stacey Gabriel, will receive $3.8 million to become one of two genotyping centers for the initiative. The other is at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Individual investigators and their projects are:

Dr. Frank Hu, Harvard School of Public Health, genes and environment initiatives in type 2 diabetes, $622,000;

Patty Freedson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, development of an integrated measurement system to assess physical activity, $411,000;

Stephen Intille, MIT, enabling population-scale physical activity measurement on common mobile phones, $681,000;

Bevin Engelward, MIT, comet-chip high-throughput DNA damage sensor, $429,000;

Bruce Kristal, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, mitochondrial, metabolite and protein biomarkers of effects of diet, $454,000;

Dr. Avrum Spira, Boston University, a non-invasive gene expression biomarker of airway response to tobacco smoke, $643,000.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:57 PM

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Update on Harvard physician-scientist's move to Arizona

Dr. Robert A. Greenes says it's hard to leave Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital, after 40 years, but the chance to build a new biomedical informatics program in Arizona is too good to pass up.

"Harvard and the Brigham have provided a wonderful environment for my professional activity," he said in an e-mail message last night. "My decision to leave Boston after many years of working closely with so many wonderful colleagues was not easy but became irresistible as I learned more about what the opportunity could be."

Greenes, a Harvard Medical School radiology professor and program director of a Harvard-MIT training program in medical informatics, is joining Arizona State University, whose faculty teaches medical students at the new Phoenix branch of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

He is the second prominent biomedical informatics researcher to leave Harvard for a new program, following Stephen Wong, who took about 20 lab staffers with him to Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston.

"Besides the attractions of the new position in terms of the commitment of the participating institutions to it, and the generous budget, and space, ... I think the big attraction for me is the chance to raise the scale of informatics activity and commitment, " Greenes said.

Greenes singled out Dr. Steven Seltzer, chief of radiology at the Brigham, for his support of biomedical informatics as the field has matured. Yesterday Seltzer called the new opportunity for Greenes an exciting one.

The University of Arizona incorporated biomedical informatics into plans for its new medical school branch in Phoenix, Greenes said. Its 24 students have just begun classes, medical school spokesman Al Brava said yesterday.

Biomedical informatics includes the role of informatics not only in genomics and molecular science, but also in imaging, clinical medicine and public health, Greenes said.

"These are heady times for informatics, and Arizona recognizes and is poised to take advantage of its potential," he said.

His wife, Carole Greenes, is also joining Arizona State University. A professor of mathematics education at Boston University, she will become dean of the School of Educational Innovation and Teacher preparation at ASU's Polytechnic campus in Mesa.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:27 AM

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Harvard leader named dean of Duke medical school

andrews100.bmpA Harvard Medical School physician-scientist has been named dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, the North Carolina school announced today.

Dr. Nancy C. Andrews (left), dean for basic sciences and graduate studies at Harvard Medical School, is the first woman to fill the position, Duke said. She will succeed Dr. R. Sanders Williams, who was promoted to senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at Duke.

Andrews, 48, is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children's Hospital Boston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She previously directed the Harvard/MIT MD/PhD program. A member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, she was a Howard Hughes Investigator from 1993 to 2006.

Andrews earned bachelor's and master's degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, a Ph.D. in biology from MIT, and an MD from Harvard Medical School. She completed her residency at Children's and a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Children's and Dana-Farber.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:51 PM

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Notables

A Brown University neuroscientist has won Germany's top honor for basic neurological research for creating a device that translates thought into action.

John P. Donoghue, who developed a brain implant called BrainGate that allows paralyzed people to use their thoughts to move a computer cursor, control a wheelchair or operate a robotic arm, will receive one of two K.J. Zulch prizes next week. The other goes to University of Melbourne professor emeritus Graeme Clark, who invented the cochlear implant.

Dr. Robert Ian McCaslin of Children's Hospital Boston has been named director of Mo HealthNet, the Medicaid agency for the state of Missouri, Governor Matt Blunt said. He has been an attending physician in the pediatric emergency department at Children's and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Each year MIT's Technology Review names 35 innovators under 35 for its TR35. This year eight technologists and scientists from New England make the list.

David Berry, 29, Flagship Ventures, Cambridge: renewable petroleum from microbes
Adam Cohen, 28, of Harvard University: making molecules motionless
Ali Khademhosseini, 31, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology: improving engineered tissues
Ivan Kristic, 21, One Laptop per Child (on leave from Harvard): making antivirus software obsolete
Christopher Loose, 27, SteriCoat, Cambridge: beating up bacteria
Anna Lysyanskaya, 31, Brown University: Securing online privacy
Kristala Jones Prather, 34, MIT: reverse-engineering biology
Mehmet Yanik, 29, MIT: stopping light on microchips

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:03 AM

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Monday, August 20, 2007

'Simon Birch' star, now MIT student, on human augmentation

ian michael smith150.bmpIan Michael Smith (left), star of the 1998 movie "Simon Birch" and a sophomore at MIT, tells Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert that technology such as his cochlear implant is all about "customizing your body."

Smith had just had the implant activated as a result of his increasing deafness, a side effect of Morquito's syndrome. The form of dwarfism limits his height but not his life span, the story says.

Ebert asked Smith, who is majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, about the science-fiction dream of merging human and robot.

"We’re seeing advances in human augmentation that we had no idea 10 or 20 years ago would be possible," Smith said. "I don’t think anyone ever expected cochlear implants to be as advanced today as they are now. Now we have the same sort of technology being used as visual implants to provide sight to people, and to treat Parkinson’s with brain stimulators."

"It’s not about augmenting human capability for its own sake," he said. "In my case, I’m not going to rush out and start injecting steroids just to be strong because I have no use for that. It’s about customizing your body to do what you want it to do."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:04 AM

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Resignation about more than Sherley tenure denial, former MIT professor says

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

Frank L. Douglas, who resigned from MIT last month as his colleague James Sherley was ending his fight for tenure, writes in The Scientist that his reasons for leaving MIT go beyond Sherley's case.

Sherley, an African-American stem cell scientist, went on a 12-day hunger strike in February to protest what he called racism in MIT's denial of tenure. MIT has denied his contention.

Douglas, who is also African-American, said he left his positions as a professor and director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Innovation because of MIT's "lack of will to deal with a problem that had clearly polarized minority faculty and the larger MIT community."

"I did so because I perceived an unconscious discrimination against minorities and because my colleagues and the institute authorities did not act on my recommendations to address these issues," he writes. "The timing was such that many of my colleagues thought I was resigning over the case of James Sherley, who was denied tenure in 2004 and went on a hunger strike earlier this year in protest. But my decision was based on the complex, insidious nature of discrimination in a university context."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:48 PM

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Iraq veteran demonstrates motorized artificial foot

By Felicia Mello, Globe Correspondent

After losing a foot and part of a leg to a landmine during the invasion of Iraq, Garth Stewart is determined to keep active. The 24-year-old retired Army specialist makes time for jujitsu and boxing in between history classes at Columbia University in New York. Still, sometimes the artificial limb he uses can't keep up with his busy schedule.

"Your hip ends up doing so much work because it has to draw the foot forward," he said. "At the end of the day you have soreness in your back."

Hoping to help Stewart and others who have lost limbs walk more normally, a team of researchers from MIT, Brown University and the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center today unveiled the first motor-powered prosthetic foot. The computer-controlled appendage can relax or stiffen in response to changing terrain, propelling the wearer forward more quickly and reducing fatigue.

"The ankle kind of has a mind of its own," Stewart said in a telephone interview, after demonstrating the device in front of an audience of reporters and fellow amputees at the medical center. "At first I felt like it was fighting me, but once I got accustomed to the rhythm, it felt like having my leg back."

The US Department of Veterans Affairs, which spent $7.2 million to develop the prosthesis, has poured resources into creating better aids for the large number of wartime amputees returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Six percent of soldiers wounded in the Iraq conflict have required amputation of a limb, compared with 3 percent in previous wars, according to a 2004 US Senate report.

"One of the things that's different about this war is that soldiers are surviving injuries that formerly would have been fatal, due to advances in field medicine and also the fact that soldiers are protected with Kevlar body armor," said Robert Swift, associate chief of staff for research at the medical center. "However, what's not protected is their limbs."

Seventy percent of leg amputees suffer from back problems caused in part by traditional prostheses, said Hugh Herr, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and a double amputee who helped develop the device and tested it on himself.

Herr said in an interview that he and his colleagues "stole ideas from nature" to create the prosthesis, which is heavier than a conventional artificial foot but requires less energy to walk. It uses a motor instead of muscle and springs to replace the stringy tendons that connect muscle to bone.

The researchers plan to begin clinical trials on the prosthesis in March.

Herr said he and his team are also working on developing artificial limbs that would be controlled directly by the brain rather than by a computer, by taking advantage of the 'phantom limb' phenomenon in which an amputee's brain tries to move an appendage that is no longer there.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

MIT trio wins nation's top honors for science, technology

By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff

Two professors at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and the institute's former president have been chosen to receive the nation's highest honors for science and technology, the White House announced today, an extraordinary concentration of achievement for one university.

Tapped by President George W. Bush to receive the 2006 National Medals of Science were Robert S. Langer, renowned for developing new ways to administer drugs to cancer patients, and Daniel Kleppner, an authority on atomic physics and quantum optics.

Charles M. Vest, who served for 14 years as president of MIT until 2004, was named by Bush to receive the National Medal of Technology. He won acclaim during his tenure for his efforts to strengthen national policy on science, engineering, and education.

Langer and Kleppner bring to 47 the number of MIT scientists to receive the prestigious Medal of Science. Vest is the fifth MIT engineer or inventor to win the Medal of Technology.

MIT was the only New England university to win the medals for 2006 and the only university in the country to win more than one. A total of eight science medals and five technology medals were awarded.

"MIT is extraordinarily proud that three esteemed members of our community have been selected for this honor," said Susan Hockfield, president of MIT.

The winners, she said, have "made enormous contributions to MIT, to our nation, and to science."

The National Medal of Science was established in 1959 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to "physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences." In 1980, Congress extended the award to include social and behavioral sciences.

The National Medal of Technology was created in 1980 to honor individuals who make "lasting contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation," according to the White House.

Langer was cited for "revolutionary discoveries" that led to better ways to administer drugs. These treatments, the citation said, "have profoundly affected the well-being of mankind."

In the 1970s, chemical engineer Langer teamed with oncologist Judah Folkman at Children's Hospital Boston to develop methods that would allow large proteins to enter membranes in a highly controlled manner to combat angiogenesis, the process by which tumors recruit blood vessels that sustain them. The treatment helped fight cancer by making it more difficult for tumors to spread to other organs.

Kleppner received the medal for pioneering studies of the interaction between atoms and light, and for "lucid explanations of physics to non-specialists."

In 1960, Kleppner developed with Harvard physicist Norman Ramsey the "hydrogen maser," an atomic clock of great stability used in radio signalling, radio astronomy, and satellite-based global positioning systems.

Kleppner also helped create a whole new field of physics, the study of "ultra-cold" gases.

Vest was cited by President Bush for "visionary leadership in advancing America's technological workforce and capacity for innovation."

The medals will be presented by the president at a White House ceremony on July 27.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New hope for stroke patients in latest robotics

robotic elbow brace100.bmpA device first designed by two MIT graduate students in a 2002 robotics class is helping stroke patients regain motion in their arms, a story in today's New York Times says. Mechanical engineer John McBean developed the technology with Kailas Narendran, an electrical engineer and computer scientist.

A small study of their Myomo e100 device (shown in motion, left) and associated treatment, conducted with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and published in April in The American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, found that patients who exercised with the arm brace for 18 hours over about six weeks experienced a 23 percent improvement in upper extremity function, the Times story says.

The device has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is expected to reach the market in the next few months.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:15 AM

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Former MIT trustee withdraws support over Sherley case

bernard loyd.jpgMIT graduate and former trustee Bernard Loyd (left) has withdrawn from activities supporting the university because of how it has handled the tenure case of James L. Sherley, he said in a letter to the university yesterday.

"I write with a heavy heart," his letter says. "I will not support an MIT that, through disregard for fair process in the recent Sherley case, through repeated rebuffs of well-meaning attempts to engage on issues of black talent and scholarship, and through an apparent unwillingness to speak forcefully on issues of race suggests that it lacks genuine commitment to merit and diversity."

Sherley, an African-American stem cell scientist and professor in the bioengineering department, went on a 12-day hunger strike in February to protest a tenure decision process that he said was racist. His faculty appointment ended June 30 and his laboratory was closed and his staff was laid off.

MIT, which has previously said its tenure decision is final, released a statement this afternoon:

"We value Dr. Loyd's many significant contributions as an active MIT alumnus. He has raised important issues regarding diversity at MIT and we are working hard to accelerate our progress in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority faculty."

Last month, Frank L. Douglas, executive director of the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation, said he would leave the university because of MIT's refusal to reconsider its decision not to grant Sherley tenure.

Loyd earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in aeronautics and astronautics and was the chairman of the Black Graduate Student Association at MIT. The 1983 alumnus raised funds for MIT and served on visiting committees for those two departments after his five-year term as a member of the MIT Corporation, the university's name for its board of trustees. He also identified and recruited minority students for MIT in the Chicago area.

He is the president of Urban Juncture Inc., a Chicago company that develops commercial real estate and other businesses that contribute to revitalizing cities, according to its web site.

"It has been an honor to serve the Institute," his letter said, describing the visiting committees that gathered professionals to drive progress at MIT. "However, in my view, the notion of meritocracy and its implications for an openness to and, indeed, sponsorship of diverse students, staff, and faculty must be central to the Institute."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:53 PM

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Sherley locked out of MIT

sherley150.bmpJames L. Sherley (at right in February photo), the African-American stem cell scientist who went on a hunger strike in February to protest what he called racism in MIT's decision to deny him tenure, has been locked out of his laboratory, he said today.

In an e-mail to MIT president Susan Hockfield, he said his staff had been laid off, the locks to the doors of his lab changed and campus police officers stationed in the hallway outside. The university had set a June 30 deadline for his departure, which he disputed.

"I maintain that the forced closure of my laboratory is an illegitimate injustice by your office," he wrote. "MIT is in active violation of the agreement it made with me on February 16 to develop a fair external resolution process without a deadline."

MIT has said previously that its tenure decision is final and that the agreement reached when he ended his hunger strike did not reopen that process.

"His appointment did end June 30," MIT spokeswoman Patti Richards said tonight. "It had already been extended and he did have full access to his lab and office for the duration of his faculty appointment."

Claude Canizares, vice president for research and associate provost at MIT, responded to Sherley's letter to Hockfield.

"As I have stated, as recently as last week, we are deeply disappointed that you have repeatedly declined for several months to develop a transition plan that would have allowed you and your staff to continue your research outside of MIT and for you to participate in the orderly closure of your lab," Canizares's e-mail says. "You chose not to communicate and not to participate in the necessary decommissioning of your lab and relocation of the research by June 30. As supervisor for your staff until June 30, you bore primary responsibility for them and should have taken steps to assist them in their transition."

In his reply, Sherley placed the blame on MIT.

"The responsibility for the present act is MIT's alone," he wrote. "The members of my research group understand this issue fully, as do many in the MIT community."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:54 PM

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Scientists report win against bacterial biofilms

Two scientists from Boston University and a Harvard-MIT program have engineered an organism to fight bacterial biofilms.

Writing in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Timothy K. Lu and James J. Collins report that they created a bacteriophage -- a virus that infects bacterial cells -- that releases an enzyme to attack both the bacterial cells in the biofilm and to disperse the biofilm itself.

Bacteria commonly live in biofilms. They can be found in dental plaque or water pipes or on medical devices. A source of infection and contamination, biofilms pose a particular problem when they are resistant to antibiotics.

Bacteriophages work in a different way than antibiotics when they infect bacterial cells. The authors say that adding enzymes makes the bacteriophages much more effective than previous efforts that didn't incorporate enzymes.

Lu is from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and Collins is from BU's Center for BioDynamics.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:29 PM

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Notables

Cambridge Health Alliance will accept an award today from the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems for its role in medical school curriculum change.

CHA developed a program for third-year Harvard Medical School students to follow patients for a year at one hospital instead of traditional rotations in different settings. The hospital was chosen for the 2007 Chair Award from 64 submissions, NAPH said in a statement.

Dr. Samantha L. Rosman, a third-year resident in pediatrics in Boston, has been re-elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees. She is a 2004 graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After completing her residency, she will begin a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center.

Shedlack100.bmpDr. Karen Shedlack (left), medical adviser for the mental retardation division of Vinfen, has won a 2007 Distinguished Fellowship from the American Psychiatric Association.

Before joining Vinfen, a private, nonprofit human services organization based in Cambridge, Shedlack was medical director for the adult developmental disabilities program at McLean Hospital and worked in the department of psychology and brain science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Virgin Life Care has named three Boston academics to its science advisory board.

A subsidiary of the Virgin group headed by Sir Richard Branson, the Boston company develops activity-based health rewards programs.

The board members are Dr. I-Min Lee of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, Kyle McInnis of UMass-Boston and Jessica Whitely of UMass-Boston and Brown Medical School.


Children's Hospital Boston has honored five doctors with Community Physician Awards for the care they give in pediatric practices and community health centers.

They are Dr. Anthony Compagnone of Hyde Park Pediatrics, Dr. Debra Ann Gfeller of Holliston Pediatrics, Dr. David Holder of the Martha Eliot Health Center, Dr. Richard Marshall of Harvard Vanguard Associates at Copley and Dr. Robert Michaels of Longwood Pediatrics.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:05 AM

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Monday, June 25, 2007

MIT researcher offers hope for syndrome that causes retardation, autism

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

Blocking a key brain chemical can reverse many of the symptoms of Fragile X Syndrome -- an inherited form of mental retardation often accompanied by autism -- in mice engineered to have the disease, an on-line scientific journal reported this afternoon.

The findings raise the prospect that drugs with similar effects may someday help restore brain function in human children with the syndrome, and possibly with some forms of autism as well, said Susumu Tonegawa of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, senior author of the paper in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. About 100,000 Americans have Fragile X.

Mental retardation has long been thought to be permanent. But recent research increasingly suggests that even with diseases that strike after birth, the brain may be more fixable than previously believed. Earlier this year, scientists from Scotland reported that dramatic recoveries could be achieved in mice with Rett Syndrome, another genetic disease related to autism.

Tonegawa's paper says "that some of the abnormalities with mental retardation syndromes and autism aren't necessarily cemented in stone," said Eric Klann, a professor in New York University's Center for Neural Sciences, who was familiar with the paper but not involved with the research. "I think it gives some degree of hope."

The research focused on blocking an enzyme called PAK. Tonegawa's research used genetic manipulation rather than drugs, but he said that he believes drug and biotech companies are already working on developing compounds that block the same enzyme. His lab may seek access to such compounds that are aimed for other diseases, or ask a chemist to synthesize them, he said.

There are currently several drugs in development as possible treatments for people with Fragile X Syndrome, said Katie Clapp, co-founder of FRAXA Research Foundation, a locally based nonprofit that helped fund the research. Her 18-year-old son, Andy, has the syndrome. None of the compounds has reached the point that she would want Andy to try them, she said, nor are they publicly available.

"But talk to me in a couple of months," she said. "There are more drug targets coming out of research that we're funding, and some of it does suggest drugs that are already available. So sometimes I feel like I'm living a dream --- a really good one."

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 05:22 PM

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Harvard researcher wins MERIT Award from NIH

Lin100.bmpXihong Lin (left), professor of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health, has won a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Lin will develop statistical methods for analyzing cancer research data, including long-term and family data as well as genomic and proteomic information in epidemiological studies and population sciences, NIH said in a statement.

Fewer than 5 percent of NIH-funded investigators are selected to receive the awards.

Current MERIT recipients in Massachusetts and their instituions are:

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Benjamin G. Neel
CBR Institute for Biomedical Research: Timothy R. Springer
Children's Hospital Boston: Michael Klagsbrun and Bruce R. Zetter
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Stanley Korsmeyer and David M. Livingston
Harvard: John Blenis, Stephen C. Harrison, Peter M. Howley and Andrew G. Myers
Massachusetts General Hospital: Daniel Haber
MIT: Michael R. Lieber, Stephen J. Lippard and Alexander Rich
Tufts: John M. Coffin
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research: Rudolph Jaenisch

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:05 AM

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Boston scientists named Pew biomedical scholars

Four Boston-area scientists are among the newest class of 20 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences, the program announced today.

Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to the University of California at San Francisco, the awards give each scientist $240,000 over four years to support research.

Past winners have included Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for the discovery of the gene-silencing mechanism know as RNA interference.

This year's Boston-area winners are:

heldwein90.bmpEkaterina Heldwein (left), an assistant professor at Tufts University, will study how herpes viruses enter human cells. A graduate of Oregon Health and Science University, she trained at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

hung90.bmpDr. Deborah T. Hung (right), an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an assistant molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, will search for ways to fight the infectiousness of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that harms people with compromised immune systems because they have such conditions as cystic fibrosis, HIV or traumatic burns. She earned a doctorate in chemistry and a medical degree from Harvard and did additional training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Mass. General.

nicastro90.bmpDaniela Nicastro (left), an assistant professor at Brandeis University, will investigate the molecular interactions involved in the beating of flagella in sea urchin sperm, which are important to understanding defects that underlie such human disorders as polycystic kidney disease, chronic respiratory disease and infertility. She received a doctorate in biology from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and did postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry and the University of Colorado.

schwartz90.bmpThomas U. Schwartz (left), an assistant professor at MIT, will study the three-dimensional structure of the nuclear pore complex that regulates molecular traffic into and out of the cell nucleus, which could lead to antiviral therapies. He earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the Free University of Berlin and did postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:28 PM

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Sherley protests pending MIT closure of his lab

sherley150.bmpJames L. Sherley (in file photo, left), an African-American stem cell scientist who went on a hunger strike in February to protest what he called racism in MIT's decision to deny him tenure, has begun another protest.

About 10 to 15 people joined him in front of MIT's domed building opposite the student center on Massachusetts Avenue at noon today, he said in an e-mail message. The group, which included colleagues from other universities and MIT staff, students, alumni and faculty, passed out about 75 fliers, he said. In a weekend e-mail, he called on supporters to lock arms with him for an hour each weekday in opposition to the administration's plan to close his lab June 30.

MIT was aware of Sherley's planned protest, spokeswoman Patti Richards said in an e-mail today. The university has no further comment, she said, citing an earlier statement that said the tenure decision is final.

"Both before and since his hunger strike, MIT has been committed to resolving its differences with Professor Sherley and has offered repeatedly to engage in professional mediation to facilitate an amicable agreement," the statement said. "With June 30 fast approaching, MIT has continued to urge Professor Sherley to work with the Administration to make appropriate transition plans for his departure from MIT."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:55 PM

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

She calls it 'phenomena,' not art

frankel150.bmpFirst an artist in residence and now a research scientist at MIT and also a senior research fellow at the Institute for Innovative Computing at Harvard, Felice Frankel (left) helps researchers use cameras, microscopes and other tools to display the beauty of science, a story in today's New York Times says.

But she doesn't call it art.

frankelslide100.bmp"My stuff is about phenomena," she says in the story, referring to magnetism or the behavior of water molecules or how colonies of bacteria grow — phenomena of nature. "When it’s art, it’s more about the creator, not necessarily the concept in the image."

Frankel and George M. Whitesides, a Harvard chemist and her longtime collaborator, are finishing a book about "small things," Whitesides told the Times, things at the limit of what can be seen with light, even through the microscope.

"She has transformed the visual face of science," he said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:54 AM

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Harvard, Whitehead scientists report embryonic stem cell advances

By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff

Scientists in Massachusetts and Japan say they have created embryonic stem cells using procedures that might overcome some of the ethical objections to the controversial research as well as a major scientific hurdle.

Most dramatically, three of the four research findings announced today used a highly experimental approach that avoids the destruction of embryos, which critics equate to taking a life. Instead, they used genes and retroviruses to coax adult cells back to an embryo-like state.

The other project, meanwhile, points to a new, readily available source of embryonic stem cells, which would allow researchers to bypass a bottleneck in current efforts at Harvard University to clone human stem cells genetically matched to a patient with a particular disease -- the inability to find women willing to donate unfertilized eggs for the research.

All of the research reported in today's Nature and Cell Stem Cell involved mice, but scientists say they believe the results could be replicated in humans.

"These new studies, done with mice cells, point the way to experiments that can be tried with human cells," said Douglas Melton, a Harvard stem cell scientist. "This represents some of the most exciting work in stem cell biology and genetic reprogramming."

In one of the papers, Melton's colleague at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Kevin Eggan, defied long-standing scientific dogma that fertilized eggs cannot be used to clone embryonic stem cell lines. Eggan carried out somatic cell nuclear transfer -- cloning -- by removing chromosomes from a one-cell fertilized egg and replacing it with DNA from another, mature cell. The modified cell began dividing, and he then harvested stem cells from the resultant embryo.

Although less razzle-dazzle than the techniques used in the other research, Eggan's work holds the best prospect of creating human embryonic stem cell lines in the near future.

The study by Eggan suggested that researchers could use the genetically-defective fertilized eggs discarded by the thousands daily at fertility clinics across the United States. Such one-cell embryos are treated as waste because they stand no chance of attaching to the womb and forming a healthy embryo.

"This represents a wonderful way of obtaining something good -- medical research that could lead to therapies for human disease -- out of something that would just be thrown away," Eggan said in an interview.

The findings by scientists from Harvard, the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Japan's Kyoto University also represented the most successful attempts to date to find new ways to make embryonic stem cells that might overcome some of the ethical opposition from religious groups who oppose destruction of human embryos and from womens groups worried about the implications of female donors undergoing tricky hormonal therapy to produce eggs for research.

"All in all, this is encouraging, exciting progress that shows real willingness among scientists to weigh ethical concerns even as they pursue science objectives," said Dr. William Hurlbut, a neuroscientist and ethicist at Stanford University who serves on the President's Council on Bioethics. "The science is critical, of course. But so are many ethical concerns. We've got to calm down as a nation and stop the acrimony and misrepresentation flung by both sides."

Embryonic stem cells, considered crucial to medical science and eventual treatment for an array of terrible diseases, have the ability to form any of the 220 basic tissue types in the body -- from bone cells to brain cells.

But research on the cells has been slowed in the United States since President Bush, citing concerns about destruction of embryos, sharply limited federal funding of the science in 2001.

Work done by teams working independently of one another at Harvard, the Whitehead Institute, and Kyoto University involved the genetic manipulation of mouse skin cells back into an embryonic state. No eggs were used, no embryos destroyed -- a stunning advance, although perhaps difficult to replicate in humans.

"You can really turn back the clock from adult to embryonic stem cells," said Konrad Hochedlinger of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Regenerative Medicine. "But success in humans might be much more difficult than in mice."

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Weinberg honored for developing breast cancer treatment

weinberg.jpgRobert Weinberg (left) of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research is one of four scientists being honored today for their collaboration in developing the breast cancer therapy Herceptin.

Weinberg will share the $200,000 Warren Alpert Foundation Scientific Prize with H. Michael Shepard of Receptor BioLogix Inc. of South San Francisco, Dr. Dennis Slamon of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Axel Ullrich of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany. They will be honored at a ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston following a symposium at Harvard Medical School.

Herceptin is a specially engineered antibody that blocks a protein whose levels are high in about 25 percent of all breast cancers. This form of breast cancer is also the most rapidly fatal.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:53 AM

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Sherley disputes MIT departure deadline

MIT's provost today disputed statements by Prof. James L. Sherley about the agreement they reached after Sherley ended his hunger strike in February.

"He has claimed the existence of agreements with MIT that do not in fact exist, and he has revealed that he has made no plans to leave MIT when his faculty appointment ends" June 30, Provost L. Rafael Reif said in an e-mail sent to faculty.

sherley150.bmpSherley, a stem cell scientist who is African-American, went on a hunger strike to protest what he called racism in the university's decision to deny him tenure. In a statement e-mailed to news organizations last week, Sherley (at right in this February file photo) said that the Feb. 16 agreement he reached with MIT administrators to end his hunger strike made the deadline void, as did MIT's public disclosure of the deadline, which he called a violation of personnel guidelines.

"The administration has not acted in good faith on the agreement we made," Sherley said in an interview today. "Most important, it kept tenure on the table."

Reif repeated previous statements that MIT's tenure decision is final.

"There was no agreement to review his tenure case again, nor did MIT agree to conduct any further review of his allegations that had been considered in his grievance process," his e-mail said.

On Feb. 16, MIT and Sherley released statements in which they agreed to work to resolve their differences.

Sherley's faculty appointment ends on June 30, a date he called his "scheduled forced eviction" in last week's e-mail.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:39 PM

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Media lab hopes to create humans, the next version

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

Dan Ellsey brought down the house at the MIT Media Lab's symposium today on augmenting the human body.

Using an infrared tracker and HyperScore software developed by MIT music and media professor Tod Machover, the 33-year man with cerebral palsy used head movements to perform his electronic music composition "My Eagle Song." Its harmonies were translated into rippling waves of color on the screen behind him.

There were cheers and even tears in the audience, which had just seen athlete, model and actress Aimee Mullins say she can't imagine trading her life with two artificial legs for legs of flesh and bones.

"People say I have no legs, but I say I have 10," she said, pointing to a row of prosthetics, including a carved wooden one, a carbon fiber set based on cheetah dynamics and the set with stiletto heels that she was wearing. "My interaction with them has transformed me."

And then Hugh Herr, MIT professor, developer of human-powered artificial legs and also a bilateral amputee, scaled a climbing wall on stage.

"Doctors said I would never climb again," said Herr. "They were wrong."

It was a dizzying end to a day of thinking differently about how technology can forge "new minds, new bodies, new identities," as the conference was billed.

Media Lab director Frank Moss called it "hacking the human" when he introduced today's session, designed to show how scientists are melding human and machine to invent a better future not just for people who have lost the ability to walk or see or interpret facial cues, but for all people.

"Today we'll discuss designs to unleash an era of human adaptability to forever change our notions of abilities and disabilities," he said.

John Hockenberry, former NBC News journalist and distinguished fellow at the Media Lab, set the tone, saying he was looking for an upgrade for himself.

He has used a wheelchair for 30 years after being paralyzed in a car accident when he was 19. He said he has no trouble integrating the machine that helps him get around with the person he has become in this second life. Typewriters were created as a tool to help the blind, he reminded the audience.

Other speakers included neurologist Oliver Sacks, who sounded a note of caution. He told the story of a congenitally blind man whose life was turned into turmoil when he was surgically given sight but his brain could not interpret it.

MIT professor Rosalind Picard wired several audience members to get feedback from their facial expressions when her talk was boring them. The work has implications for people with autism, like her former student whose mother once told Picard that he learned math as easily as most people read social cues, and learned social cues with as much difficulty as most people learn math.

Deb Roy, an MIT professor, has lived, along his wife and 21-month-old son, under near constant video surveillance in their home. Videocams in the ceiling provide minute-by-minute details of how his son has learned the basics of speech – the first time speech acquisition has been analyzed so closely.

John Donoghue of Brown University and Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems showed the familiar but still astonishing images of quadriplegic Matthew Nagle moving a computer cursor with his thoughts.

Architect Michael Graves made an eloquent plea for simple solutions to problems born of design done without much thought.

"It doesn't cost much," he said. "It's just a matter of using your mind and the strength of your convictions."

At the end of the day, after the music ended and the cheers subsided, Hockenberry wheeled on stage on a Segway, which he said was a hacked version adapted to fit the user. This was not something dumped on people, he said, but a device that users fashioned to fit their own needs and evolving identities.

"There is no such thing as normal," Hockenberry said. "With devices such as this, I'm liberated. I’m set free."

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 08:17 PM

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Monday, May 7, 2007

CIMIT awards $5m to medical device researchers

Proposals to build new devices to help premature infants, to inject medicine without breaking the skin and to guide surgeons operating on the brain were among projects to win $5 million in grants from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, the consortium announced today.

CIMIT, composed of Boston-area teaching hospitals and engineering schools, made 37 grants that range from $40,000 to $100,000. Twenty-two have military applications, acording to CIMIT, which receives support from the US Department of Defense as well as its members.

Dr. Riccardo Barbieri of Massachusetts General Hospital won a grant to develop a computational tool based on a premature infant's heartbeat to predict episodes when they stop breathing.

Mark Horenstein of Boston University will demonstate a way to inject medications through the skin using nanoparticles, leaving no wound behind.

Dr. Nobuyuki Nakajima of Brigham and Women's Hospital will work to improve how instruments can be navigated to diagnose and treat brain injury or disease.

"Our goal ... is to bring life-changing technology to patients as quickly as possible," Dr. John Parrish, CIMIT founder and director and Vietnam War battlefield surgeon, said in a statement. "We are especially aware of the needs of soldiers wounded on the battlefield."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:56 AM

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

11 from area named to National Academy of Sciences

Eleven researchers from the Boston area are among 72 new members named today to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, a private organization established by Congress in 1863 to advise the federal government.

Five are from MIT, four from Harvard and two from Brandeis. They are:

Tania A. Baker, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biology, MIT
Moungi G. Bawendi, professor of chemistry and professor of energy, MIT
Michael B. Brenner, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School
Kerry A. Emanuel, professor, program in atmospheres, oceans, and climate, MIT
Gerald Gabrielse, professor of physics, Harvard University
Eve E. Marder, professor of neuroscience, Brandeis University
Curtis T. McMullen, professor of mathematics, Harvard University
Silvio Micali, professor of computer science, MIT
Christopher Miller, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biochemistry, Brandeis University
Peter H. Schiller, professor of medical engineering and medical physics, MIT
Jonathan G. Seidman, professor of cardiovascular genetics, Harvard Medical School

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:37 PM

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Genetic understanding of diabetes deepens

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

Four separate scientific teams, including one led by Harvard researchers, are today reporting progress toward unraveling the genetic basis of the most common form of diabetes.

They have identified three new genetic risk factors and confirmed five others that were discovered over the last few years. An additional risk factor identified by one group has not yet been confirmed by others.

Together, the genetic defects account for about 5 percent of the risk of getting the illness, said David Altshuler, associate professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leader of one of the four teams that included the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

"The picture that is emerging is of multiple genes, each with a modest effect" on diabetes, he said.

Overall, genetics account for about half the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, according to Altshuler. Environment and such behaviors as obesity and lack of exercise account for the remaining risk.

More than 20 million Americans now have type 2 diabetes and scientists estimate that about 54 million more are at risk of getting the illness. The disease harms the body's ability to control blood sugar and can lead to heart disease, blindness and early death.

The new research is expected to provide leads for development of new treatments and possibly ways to prevent diabetes.

"The pharmaceutical industry is absolutely salivating at all of these studies because they represent the best validation of a new drug target," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and a leader of another of the teams. But Collins cautioned that it could be a decade before patients see any new drugs from the research.

The work is unusual because three of the four scientific groups collaborated to confirm their results, making the findings extremely solid. In addition, the results identified some genetic areas that are not connected to any known mechanism behind diabetes.

The results were published today in the online editions of the journals Science and Nature Genetics.

They are all based on a new research technique called genome-wide association studies, in which scientists compare genetic samples from thousands of individuals with a specific illness to those without it. Differences between the two are examined as possible genetic causes of the disease.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:05 PM

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On the trail of Parkinson’s, through yeast cells

lindquist150.bmpDr. Susan L. Lindquist (left), a member and former director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies how molecular proteins change shape in cell division. The process, called protein folding, can — when it goes wrong — lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She is also a founder of FoldRx Pharmaceuticals, a startup biotechnology company seeking to develop drugs to fight Parkinson’s.

In a Q and A in today's New York Times, she explains why she works in yeast and the path she followed to a life in science.

"I have to tell you that the sheer intellectual joy of finding out how life works is really cool," she said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:56 AM

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Patients can manage their own care better, researchers argue

Teaching patients how to monitor and manage their chronic illnesses can not only lower costs but improve quality of care, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT say.

In an essay in this week's Public Library of Science Medicine, Harold J. DeMonaco of MGH and Eric von Hippel of MIT review the medical literature on self-management tools for type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, depression and asthma.

They ask why the methods patients use to take care of their own diabetes -- monitoring blood sugar, injecting insulin, evaluating how well they are doing and adjusting dosage -- can't be expanded to other conditions. In one study they cite, patients with hypertension successfully used home monitors to lower their blood pressure and stay on their medications.

"We propose that the time has come for health systems to support appropriate and appropriately timed shifts from practitioner-based care to patient self-management," they write.

Can this work? Let White Coat Notes know what you think at whitecoat@globe.com

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:08 AM

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Monday, April 16, 2007

New genetic risk factors for Crohn's disease identified

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT are part of a team that has discovered new genetic risk factors for Crohn's disease.

Reporting in the online Nature Genetics, they identify new genes that are involved in the immune system's response to bacteria. Crohn's disease, which affects about half a million Americans, is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease.

The authors include John D. Rioux, who has moved from the Broad to the Universite de Montreal, Ramnik J. Xavier, Alan Huett and Petric Kuballa of MGH, Todd Green of the Broad, and Mark J. Daly of the Broad and MGH.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:03 PM

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Eric Lander honored for work in genomics

lander100.bmpEric S. Lander (left), founding director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and a leader of the Human Genome Project, has won the 2007 Society for Biomolecular Sciences Achievement Award for his study of genes and how they function in health and disease.

He will receive the award, which carries a $5,000 honorarium, and present a talk called "Beyond the Human Genome" at this week's SBS meeting in Montreal. Past recipients have included Stuart L. Schreiber, also of the Broad, in 2004.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:31 AM

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

HHMI opens competition for 50 scientists and $600m

At at time when federal funding for scientific research is harder to come by, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is opening up a competition today to select 50 new investigators who will share $600 million for biomedical research.

For the first time scientists can apply directly to become HHMI investigators rather than needing their institutions to nominate them.

The researchers must belong to eligible institutions. In Massachusetts, 10 qualify: Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard Medical School and associated hospitals, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, MIT, Tufts University School of Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The competition comes at a time when funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is based on individual grant proposals, is declining, when inflation is taken into account. Established researchers worry about sustaining their work while younger investigators are taking longer to win approval for their first grant applications.

HHMI, which has spent $8.3 billion over 20 years on biomedical research and science education, won’t be filling that gap, senior scientific officer Dr. Josephine Briggs said in an interview yesterday.

"Our resources are very sizable, but they do not in any way compensate for the problem of the shrinking NIH budget," she said. "The support that Hughes is able to offer is something that the scientific community will of course welcome with delight, but at the same time all of us hope we can see a reversal in the decline in federal funding."

HHMI holds competitions every three or four years. This time, it's looking for people in the earlier stages of their careers, Briggs said.

HHMI investigators receive initial five-year appointments that come with support for their own salaries as well as flexible budgets they can use to pay for personnel and some equipment. Appointments can be renewed.

To be eligible to apply, a candidate must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree; have a tenured or tenure-track position as assistant professor or higher at one of about 200 eligible host institutions; and be the principal investigator on one or more active, national, peer-reviewed research grants at least three years long, such as an NIH R01 award.

The deadline for applications is June 13; expert panels will convene to review them in January, and decisions will be made in March.

"The charge is that they be addressing fundamental and important biological questions. It can be for any discipline, and in this new competition we hope to see chemists, mathematicians, engineers and anybody who’s doing something truly special in addressing biological questions," Briggs said.

"We expect a very hefty Boston response."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:10 AM

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Top scientists gather for metastasis meeting

Cancer researchers from Boston and around the world have gathered in Houston for a symposium today and tomorrow to talk about metastasis -- how cancer spreads -- and to honor Dr. Isaiah J. Fidler, the scientist who confirmed a 100-year-old theory of how cancer kills.

Speakers at the symposium include Dr. M. Judah Folkman of Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, Robert Weinberg of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Harold Dvorak of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard, and Richard Hynes of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and MIT.

Fidler, whose recent research focuses on prostate and pancreatic cancer, is stepping down as chair of cancer biology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in September.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:03 PM

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Friday, March 16, 2007

MIT dean defends tenure, grievance processes

Thomas L. Magnanti, dean of engineering at MIT, recently sent his colleagues a message defending the unversity's tenure and grievance review processes, saying he was surprised at some of the assumptions made regarding the case of James L. Sherley.

Sherley, an African-American stem cell scientist in the division of biological engineering, fasted for 12 days last month to protest what he called racist policies in denying him tenure.

Magnanti's March 8 e-mail followed a message from research scientist Chi-Sang Poon supporting Sherley and criticizing the grievance committee that reviewed his case.

"MIT's grievance review policy is an integral part of the Institute's system of overall faculty governance. I am puzzled that some members of our community have come so quickly to the conclusion that the grievance review process was flawed," Magnanti wrote. "About half of the junior faculty members in the School of Engineering do not receive tenure. Such decisions are difficult, often painful, and are not taken lightly by any of the individuals involved."

The dean also said MIT was not backtracking on its commitment to diversity.

"Even though I firmly believe that the Institute handled Professor Sherley's tenure case fairly, I also believe that we all can and must do more to create a more welcoming and diverse community," he wrote. "The future of the Institute, like the future of American society, depends on it."

Read Magnanti's e-mail below.

Statement to the School of Engineering Faculty Concerning Professor Sherley's Tenure Case

Thomas L. Magnanti
Dean of Engineering

March 8, 2007

Dear Colleagues,

In many conversations recently and in various other forums, I have been surprised by the assumptions some people have made and conclusions some have reached about the School of Engineering's policies as they relate to the issues Professor James Sherley has raised in connection with his tenure decision. Therefore, I feel it appropriate for me, as Dean, to comment on the tenure and grievance review processes.

In the School of Engineering, the senior faculty serve in an advisory capacity to the department or division head in the promotion and tenure process. Some departments authorize a standing committee to represent the faculty. Other units, such as the Biological Engineering Division (BE), as well as Civil and Environmental Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and the Engineering Systems Division, directly involve all of their senior faculty. Often, there is a clear consensus or even near unanimity among the faculty. In such cases, it would be extremely unusual for the department or division head not to accept the faculty's collective judgment.

After the BE faculty had completed its review of Professor Sherley's tenure case in December 2004, at the request of the Division Head, I reviewed the case myself. From my perspective, the decision was clearly correct on the merits, and the case had been handled fairly and in accordance with the Division's standard process. I did not see any evidence to suggest that racial discrimination or conflict of
interest had played a role in the tenure decision.I told Professor Sherley this in a meeting on January 24, 2005. I also informed him of the availability of MIT's grievance process should he wish to pursue his claims that racial discrimination and/or conflict of interest were factors in the decision not to grant him tenure. Subsequently, Professor Sherley did avail himself of this process.

When a faculty member files a grievance, the senior administration, usually the Provost, in consultation with the chair of the faculty and the aggrieved faculty member, appoints a committee of faculty specifically chosen to review that particular grievance. In his January 29, 2007 letter to the MIT community (see http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N1/1sherley/reif.html), the Provost summarized this process, as used in Professor Sherley's case. MIT's grievance review policy is an integral part of the Institute's system of overall faculty governance. I am puzzled that some members of our community have come so quickly to the conclusion that the grievance review process was flawed.I have not seen the reports that the Committee that investigated Professor Sherley's grievances issued, but I did meet with the Committee on two occasions and was impressed by its thoroughness.The Committee consisted of diverse and distinguished senior faculty members (none from the Biological Engineering Division) who took their responsibilities very seriously.

I could comment on several other issues raised in various communications concerning Professor Sherley's tenure case, but I understand that Professor Peter Dedon, in his role as Associate Head of the Biological Engineering Division, will be addressing these issues in a communication that he is preparing.

About half of the junior faculty members in the School of Engineering do not receive tenure. Such decisions are difficult, often painful, and are not taken lightly by any of the individuals involved. Having worked closely with Professor Lauffenburger for the last eight years during my tenure as Dean, I am confident that the process in BE was fair and just and that Professor Lauffenburger has fulfilled his responsibilities as Division Head in a manner that is entirely consistent with our very high standards of quality and integrity. As expressed in a recent open letter to the MIT community (see http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/sherley/be_sherley.pdf), a vast majority of the Division's senior faculty have publicly stated that they share this view. The 20 faculty who signed the letter included 16 of the 18 BE faculty members who were present and voted at the December 2004 meeting in which Professor Sherley's tenure case was considered.

I believe that as Provost, Professor Reif has similarly fulfilled his very difficult responsibilities in a manner that is entirely consistent with our very high standards. Having also worked closely with the Provost for the past eight years (previously in his role as Associate Head and then Department Head in EECS), I am confident that he too has been fair and just. I hope that the MIT community will emerge from this painful situation with an even greater commitment to our principles of excellence, integrity, and mutual respect.

I write to you with some trepidation since it seems that some of those involved in Professor Sherley's case have been unfairly characterized in ways that are less than flattering. Also, by my speaking out as Dean, the School of Engineering might be misunderstood in some eyes to be backtracking on its commitment to diversity. This is not the case. As I have stated in a recent School of Engineering newsletter, (see http://web.mit.edu/engineering/enews/vol1no5-feature.html), diversity is critical to MIT's and the School's educational mission: "Simply put, our diversity efforts are important to us because we believe they make MIT a better institution. Diversity is a matter of self interest." Diversity is also the right thing to do. I am proud of what the School has been doing to create a more diverse and welcoming community and I am proud of the programs we have put in place to enhance our diversity (see the newsletter article for examples). I also applaud the initiative that the MIT President and Provost have put in place to undertake a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic study of the impact of race on the hiring, advancement, and experience of under-represented minority faculty at the Institute. Even though I firmly believe that the Institute handled Professor Sherley's tenure case fairly, I also believe that we all can and must do more to create a more welcoming and diverse community. The future of the Institute, like the future of American society, depends on it.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:20 PM

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lander wins honor from biomolecular group

Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will receive the 2007 Society for Biomolecular Achievement Award for Innovation, the organization said.

Also a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and a leader of the Human Genome Project, Lander will receive the award and make a presentation called "Beyond the Human Genome Project" at the group's conference in Montreal next month.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:45 AM

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Friday, March 9, 2007

On the blogs: philanthropy and science, hospital quality measures, health care law, paying doctors more to teach

Corie Lok connects the $100 million windfall for the Broad Institute's new psychiatric research center with other grants to the Harvard-MIT venture, suggesting they account for the dominance of the Broad in papers published in Nature journals. But the effect of philanthropy doesn't stop there.

"To me, this is more evidence that Boston research is greatly benefiting from philanthropic sources of funding," she writes. "I find it interesting that people who became millionaires through businesses that have nothing to do with science are quickly becoming the benefactors of science."

Paul Levy, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, repeats his call for hospitals to make public their rates of central line infections, which can occur after tubes are inserted into patients. An anonymous poster asked about another safety issue:

"What about the NY Times story just the other day on how rapidly the various hospitals react when someone enters the emergency room with what looks like a heart attack?" the writer says. "Boston Medical Center (is) way ahead of the BID (and all others in the Boston area). Are we working on this (and other things we are low on on the HHS measures)?"

John McDonough of Health Care For All reports on yesterday's Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector board meeting that celebrated meeting milestones, having enrolled more than 52,000 people and approving seven health plans to sell Commonwealth Choice coverage to people who don't qualify for subsidized plans.

"Working nurse" sounds a note of caution, however, saying 48,000 of those people were automatically given insurance paid for through the state budget, and the other 4,000 had state subsidies for their coverage.

"More folks having true affordable quality coverage is a very good thing," the post says. "It should be pointed out that in the big picture what’s been accomplished thus far has been the easy part."

On WBUR's CommonHealth, Jonathan Gruber, professor of economics at MIT and member of the Connector Board, asks whether health insurance can be compared with food.

"Most Americans think of health insurance as medical prepayment: you buy an up-front premium and in return all of your medical expenses are covered," he writes. "But such a system has an inherent flaw: any time something is free, it will be overused. This should not be a controversial statement to anyone who has ever gone to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Having paid at the door, you always end up eating more than if you were paying for each item your ordered."

Based on research of how insurance is used, he argues that individuals should pay for some of their health care costs, according to their income.

"Coming back to the buffet analogy, it is clearly harmful to not allow individuals to eat –- but less critical that you allow them to eat as much as they want."

Kevin, M.D. got this comment on Liz Kowalczyk's Globe story about Harvard sweetening rewards for doctors who teach:

"Great, so now my tuition goes up $10,000."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:34 AM

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

$100 million to be spent unlocking the genetic mysteries of mental illness

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

It looks to be the largest single gift ever for research into mental illness: The Broad Institute, the genomics powerhouse in Cambridge, announced this evening that it will receive $100 million to figure out the genetics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The money comes from the Stanley Medical Research Institute, a family philanthropy based in Maryland.

It will go mainly to gather and analyze thousands of DNA samples from people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, in hopes of finally figuring out the complex genetics behind the diseases.

That is no easy task. The diseases afflict more than 6 million Americans, and clearly run in families. But the specific genes at work have proven largely elusive. Multiple genes are believed to be involved, and they could vary from patient to patient. Environment, too, plays a role.

But in the last year or so, gene-scanning technology has reached the point that scientists believe they can run studies on a scale large enough to detect the genetic culprits, said Dr. Edward Scolnick, who oversees the Broad's psychiatric research. He wants to gather DNA samples from as many as 10,000 people with each disease, plus 10,000 without.

That DNA then needs to be scanned in its entirety for genes correlated to the disease, and that is where the Broad's expertise comes in.

Its genomic tools have been getting ever faster and cheaper, so that it can now scan a patient's sample for half a million genetic variations at once. In a couple of months, said Eric Lander, the Broad's director, that will be up to a full million.

"If you're looking for a needle in a haystack, and you can sift the whole haystack, you'll find the needle," Lander said.

The Broad is a joint institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 05:04 PM

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Hot stuff: Three local researchers rank high

When you're hot, you're hot.

Three researchers from Boston and Cambridge ranked among the world's most highly cited scientific authors in 2005 and 2006, according to the March/April issue of Thomson Scientific’s Science Watch newsletter. Its Web of Science database identifies a paper as "hot" if it is cited in scientific journals at a much higher rate than similar papers over a two-year period.

Richard D. Gelber of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute had six hot papers in biostatistics and oncology; Max Tegmark of MIT had six in space science; and Mark J. Daly of Harvard Medical School had five in genetics.

They finished behind Shizuo Akira of Osaka University, who had 7 hot papers in immunology. Akira and Tegmark are the only two researchers who stayed hot for the second list in a row.

Here is the complete list of the hottest researchers:

Shizuo Akira, Osaka University, Immunology, 7
John L. Bryant, University of Pittsburgh, Biostatistics/Oncology, 6
Norman Wolmark, Allegheny General Hospital, Oncology, 6
Richard D. Gelber, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Biostatistics/Oncology,6
Max Tegmark, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Space Science, 6
Mikhail Kopytine, Kent State University, Physics, 6
Basanta K. Nandi, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Physics, 6
Thomas Peitzmann, Utrecht University, Netherlands, Physics, 6
Mark J. Daly, Harvard Medical School, Genetics, 5
John F. Forbes, University of Newcastle, Australia, Oncology, 5
James N. Ingle, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Oncology, 5
Aman U. Buzdar, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Oncology, 5
Scott M. Grundy, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Nutrition/Metabolism, 5
John Cuzik, Cancer Research United Kingdom Clinical Center, Epidemiology/Oncology, 5
Aron Goldhirsch, European Institute of Oncology, Milan, Oncology, Louis Mauriac, Institut Bergonie, Bordeaux, France, Oncology, 5
Louis Fehrenbacher, Kaiser Permanente, Oncology, 5

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:22 PM

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

MIT scientist calls for changes after Sherley protest

Chi-Sang Poon, a research scientist at MIT who supported African-American professor James. L. Sherley's recent hunger strike to protest alleged racism in the university's decision not to tenure him and other matters, has sent an open letter to the community called "MIT's Missing Ticket to Diversity."

Poon submitted the letter to the student-run paper, The Tech, but it was rejected because it made the same points as his previous submissions, according to an e-mail from a student editor.

Poon responded to the editor: "I am putting my career at MIT on the line to speak out on these important issues challenging the administration and President Hockfield for the good of the Institute because they may significantly impact the future governance of the Institute on many levels."

In the letter he distributed by e-mail, Poon says he is disheartened by MIT's support for "an antediluvian ad hoc grievance committee system" that favors "the powerful and the old-boy networked, the well-favored and the obsequious, at the expense of the oppressed."

MIT said today that it stands by its statement of Feb. 16.

"Professor Sherley's protest has focused attention on the effects that race may play in the hiring, advancement and experience of under-represented minority faculty, and on ensuring that our grievance processes are comprehensive, fair and timely," MIT said then. "MIT is fully committed to addressing these issues and will continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley."

Here is Poon's letter:

MIT’s Missing Ticket to Diversity

I applaud the Institute’s unmistakable confession, in the wake of Professor Sherley’s 12-day protest about racism at MIT, of its constitutional responsibility for ensuring that "all members of its diverse community feel welcome and respected" and that "[MIT’s] grievance processes are comprehensive, fair and timely" (C.-S. Poon, The Tech, Feb 27, 2007). At the same time, I am disheartened by the Institute’s seeming about-face on this critical issue once out of the limelight, as reflected in MIT’s subsequent off-the-record contention that the grievance process has worked well in Professor Sherley’s case (M. DeGraff, The Tech, Feb 27, 2007). It is impossible to look the other way and insist that the grievance processes ain’t broke after openly vowing to fix them, without offering a true and honest response to all of Professor Sherley’s discrimination allegations as documented in the Chomsky et al. letter (The Tech, Feb 6, 2007). One simply can’t have it both ways.

In 1994, the MIT Faculty Policy Committee’s Subcommittee on Grievances asserted fatefully that "there are opportunities to improve MIT's grievance procedures, but there is no need for complete restructure or redesign as the basic mechanisms [ad hoc committee system] in place are well suited to the MIT culture and environment" (http://web.mit.edu/annualreports/pres95/15.01.html). And what about the "MIT culture and environment" back then? Not surprisingly, they were those that predated MIT’s 1999 concession of gender bias against its tenured female professors. Such an antediluvian ad hoc grievance committee system, which is completely at the disposal of the Administration, is expedient to such discriminatory culture and environment as dictated by the tyranny of the majority, the powerful and the old-boy networked, the well-favored and the obsequious, at the expense of the oppressed. It conveniently serves to sustain a sub-meritocratic system that polarizes the mainstream and the minority, the insiders and the outs, the haves and the have-nots.

Ironically, the Institute has indeed in place a highly elaborate disciplinary system to adjudicate grievances and allegations of misconduct against MIT students. The Committee on Discipline, a Standing Committee of the Faculty, is comprised of a group of elected members of the faculty, academic deans, undergraduate and graduate student representatives, and ex officio members operating under a set of detailed rules and regulations with built-in checks and balances. There is no reason why the Institute should hold its own faculty and administrative members’ accountability to a lesser standard.

The recent celebrated change at the helm of Harvard University giving them their first woman president should serve as a wake-up call to all of us that a true commitment to diversity calls for the Administration’s willingness to uphold accountability at all levels of its governance, including the highest office. For after all, the buck stops there.

Chi-Sang Poon, Ph.D.
Principal Research Scientist
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:10 PM

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Friday, March 2, 2007

Cambridge turns into 'Science City' in April

Science will hit the streets in Cambridge for nine days in April celebrating science and technology.

The Cambridge Science Festival, presented by the MIT Museum from April 21-29, will feature music-playing robots, alternative-powered concept cars, a Genome Trail and tours of the Charles River, a chance to make and launch soda-bottle rockets, to appear on PBS's Dragonfly TV, and to star-gaze with astronomers. Science and technology businesses will open their doors and welcome middle- and high-school students interested in exploring careers in science.

"We hope the festival enables people to explore Cambridge -- the ultimate 'Science City' -- and discover some of its hidden science treasures. We also hope that by demystifying science we can pique the interest of young people and inspire them to pursue an education in the science, technology and engineeering fields," John Durant, director of the MIT Museum and the festival's executive director, said in a statement announcing the festival. "But most important, we want the festival to be exciting and fun."

Most of the event ideas came from people who responded to a call for entries, but other groups involved include the Cambridge Public Library, Cambridge Public Schools, Harvard University, MIT, the Museum of Science and WGBH.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:16 PM

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Snub of the universe? Postdocs pick elsewhere

Not a single institution on either side of the Charles cracked the Top 15 places to work in a survey of postdoctoral life scientists, the March issue of The Scientist magazine says.

Training and experience matter the most to these researchers, who have finished their Ph.D.s but don't have faculty positions, the survey reports. They ranked access to books and journals next, followed by affordable medical insurance and then equipment and supplies for research.

The closest Boston or Cambridge came was Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's 28th-place finish, shooting up from 97th last year.

Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute also made the top 40. MIT dropped out of the top 40, placing 53rd.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston topped the list, zooming up from 29th last year. The J. Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco slid to second place from first. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, N.C., stayed in third.

Here's how postdocs ranked area institutions, with the 2006 ranking in parentheses:

Beth Israel Deaconess: 28 (97)
Harvard Medical School: 31 (17)
Brigham and Women's: 35 (41)
Woods Hole: 38 (11)
Dana-Farber: 39 (67)
MIT: 53 (26)
Harvard University: 71 (45)
Massachusetts General Hospital: 81 (64)

A total of 96 institutions in North America were ranked this year. Research centers with too few responses were not listed, including some in the Boston area.

For its "Best Places to Work 2007: Postdocs," the magazine polled its readers about conditions in their research facilities. The Web-based questionnaire pulled in 2,555 usable responses from people who identified themselves as non-tenured scientists working in academia or other non-commercial research organizations.

So, postdocs, White Coat Notes wonders what you think about where you work. Send us your thoughts at whitecoat@globe.com.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:03 AM

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Friday, February 16, 2007

MIT professor ends hunger strike

James L. Sherley, an African-American MIT professor who was denied tenure, ended his 12-day hunger strike at noon today, but he told the MIT administration his demands for tenure and action to address perceived racism on campus are still on the table.

"Starting today, I will in fact break my fast, in celebration of the attention that has been brought to bear on issues of equity, diversity, and justice at MIT and in higher education," he wrote in a statement posted on the university's website.

"Carefully modified from the original, my demands are still on the table. I urge the administration to act in good faith, to openly acknowledge and respond to the lines of communication and negotiation that have been in place for two weeks and to find its way to meet these demands," Sherley's statement said.

MIT "will continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley," according to a statement posted with Sherley's on MIT's website.

"Professor Sherley's protest has focused attention on the effects that race may play in the hiring, advancement and experience of under-represented minority faculty, and on ensuring that our grievance processes are comprehensive, fair and timely. MIT is fully committed to addressing these issues and will continue to work toward resolution of our differences with Professor Sherley," the MIT statement said.

MIT has said that it has reviewed its decision to deny tenure to Sherley, a stem cell scientist, and that the decision is final.

"We will continue to talk out our differences," said Patti Richards, an MIT spokesperson.

Sherley began his protest Feb. 5 outside the offices of MIT President Susan Hockfield and Provost Rafael Reif, and said in an e-mail yesterday that he had lost 20 pounds.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:28 PM

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Former MIT president, student paper counter Sherley

Former MIT president Paul E. Gray took issue with James E. Sherley's characterization of Gray's overtures on Wednesday, and an editorial today in the student newspaper, The Tech, said Sherley's claims of racism lack evidence.

Sherley, an African-American stem cell scientist, says he has lost 20 pounds while on a hunger strike since Feb. 5, when he demanded MIT reverse its denial of tenure and take actions to address what he calls a racist environment. In an e-mail yesterday, Sherley alleged that Gray was sent by the MIT administration to "bully" him.

Thursday's e-mail from Gray, an electrical engineering professor, said he visited Sherley to express his personal views of his tenure case and protest.

"I was not 'sent' by the administration. I am not an errand boy. Your messages are rich with claims of lies by members of the administration. You would do well to ascertain the facts before spreading your own lie about me."

The editorial in the student newspaper said evidence of racism in Sherley's case is lacking.

"If his allegations of conflicts of interest, personal vendettas, and misleading public statements are indeed true, they would certainly constitute a breakdown in the tenure process, and would warrant some form of action to safeguard against future problems. However, even if one were to accept every single one of Mr. Sherley's allegations at face value, there would still be no evidence of racism," the editorial says.

"In lieu of any substantive evidence, why would Mr. Sherley, and why should we, automatically assume that racism is the most likely cause for the denial of his tenure? It may well be the case that an offense has been committed against Mr. Sherley in the denial of his tenure. But an offense committed against an individual who happens to be a minority race is different from an offense committed against an individual because they happen to be in a minority race — both may be unethical, but the latter is racism while the former is not."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:05 PM

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sherley case draws comments

We got a few comments on the ongoing James Sherley case. The African-American stem cell scientist has vowed not to eat until he is granted tenure and MIT deals with what he calls a racist environment.

One reader wonders why Sherley didn't raise his racism concerns before he was denied tenure, if, as Sherley says, this isn't about him alone.

"Why is it that Prof. Sherley took on this mantle only after he was denied tenure? The abuses that he alleges certainly must have been worthy of his efforts prior to his denial but somehow it wasn't important enough for him to 'starve' himself until it allegedly affected him," the e-mail said.

A minority professor e-mailed to say his complaint about lab space in 2005 still hasn't been addressed by the MIT administration.

"Like Professor Sherley’s case, this protracted unfair treatment with regard to my space needs has caused irreparable damages to my career and the careers of all students and staff in my lab," the professor wrote.

Other thoughts?

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:09 PM

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MIT professor urges MLK breakfast boycott tomorrow

MIT professor James L. Sherley, says he has now lost 20 pounds since his hunger strike began Feb. 5, and he is calling for a boycott of MIT's breakfast tomorrow honoring Martin Luther King Jr. He urges the community in an e-mail to attend "A Forum to End Racism" instead.

Sherley, an African-American stem-cell scientist, is protesting his denial of tenure in the biological engineering department. He alleges racism in the tenure process and has been making his case in campus-wide e-mails and in front of the offices of MIT President Susan Hockfield and Provost Rafael Reif.

Today's e-mail says discussions with the administration are at a stalemate and mentions moves by faculty to find tenure for him in another department at MIT. But that would not be enough, Sherley writes.

"I have not lost 20 lbs to starvation just for tenure at MIT," he says. "I will not eat again until MIT's upper administration either admits that racism and obstruction of justice was a problem in my case and others, or works with my advocates to develop a fair and open process to decide the issue."

A spokesperson for MIT said today, "We continue to try to reach out to him and have a dialogue and keep the channels of communication open."

Read Sherley's latest e-mail below:

OPEN LETTER TO THE MIT COMMUNITY: BOYCOTT THE HYPOCRISY OF THE MIT MLK BREAKFAST CELEBRATION. ATTEND A FORUM TO END UNFAIR DISCRIMINATION AT MIT- TOMORROW FRIDAY FEB. 16 IN 32-124

Dear Colleagues, Faculty, Students, and Friends:

After conducting a protest against unfair discrimination in the treatment and tenure process for minorities at MIT since December 20, 2007, including an ongoing 11-day hunger strike on my part, I am sad to say that Provost Reif and President Susan Hockfield have demonstrated a lack of moral character on this issue. Instead of working with my advocates to develop a fair and open hearing of the charges against MIT's upper administration and members of the faculty in Biological Engineering (BE), they have spent there time hiding behind the veil of confidentiality and propagating lies about the events that precipitated this protest. Chancellor Phil Clay has been selected to be the face of MIT when giving these lies to the media, even though his responsibilities are not for faculty affairs, and he has had no previous involvement in the events or proceedings that are the basis for the charges.

The administration has even gone so far as to send ex-president and lifetime MIT Corporation member Prof. Paul Gray to the protest site in the hallway outside of 3-208 in an attempt to bully me and other protestors. However, he only came armed with the same lies that the provost and the president are spreading among the faculty and department heads. For audio evidence of Prof. Grays' visit to the protest yesterday go to: http://pgen.us/Sherley.html

On Monday of this week advocates acting on my behalf presented a proposal for an external arbitration process to representatives of the administration, including a suggestion for the external arbitrator. The administration's representatives initially accepted the choice of external arbitrator. However, after talking with the MIT attorneys, in later negotiations they rejected the proposal altogether. On Wednesday evening, the MIT representatives stated that all of my demands were non-negotiable. This action resulted in the current stalemate and amplification of the protest to end racism in minority faculty tenure at MIT.

I have learned that some of the faculty are considering other tenured homes for me at MIT besides BE. This is praiseworthy work and I am thankful for it. Certainly, if this conflict can be resolved I may need another department in which to continue my research at MIT. However, the grant of tenure will not suffice for me to end my protest. I have not lost 20 lbs to starvation just for tenure at MIT. Perhaps, the cynical, obtuse, and unclear among you will now understand that what this protest is about is fairness at MIT.It is to bring forth a process that will begin a committed effort by MIT to end racism in the treatment and tenure of minority faculty. I will not eat again until MIT's upper administration either admits that racism and obstruction of justice was a problem in my case and others, or works with my advocates to develop a fair and open process to decide the issue. Any admission of the validity of my charges and the obstruction of justice by Provost Reif, must include tenure, action to end racism going forward, and censure of the responsible members of the faculty and administration.

These actions on the part of our provost and president are nothing short of the water hoses, dogs, and billy-clubs of the civil rights struggles that Martin Luther King, Jr. led. How can we as a community sit and eat at a breakfast led by this administration, that in name celebrates a great warrior for social fairness and justice, when they have dealt in this manner with a protest for fairness and the end of racism that is going on just across the campus? How can we? What will history say about us, if we allow ourselves to be compromised in this manner?

What would you give to end racism and other forms of discrimination at MIT? I invite you to show your will and resolve by boycotting the hypocrisy of the MIT MLK Breakfast Celebration. Instead attend a forum "ON THE COST OF UNFAIRNESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION" AT 7:30-9AM TOMORROW IN 32-124.

Please, share this e-mail and the attached flier with anyone who values freedom and a just society.

"LET FREEDOM RING!"

In truth,

James Sherley

P.S. OFTEN, DOING THE RIGHT THING IS HARD AND UNCOMFORTABLE

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:18 AM

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

MIT faculty say Sherley process conducted "fairly"

Members of the MIT biological engineering faculty who reviewed the decision to deny tenure to African-American stem cell scientist James L. Sherley said the process was conducted fairly, according to a statement supplied by MIT yesterday.

"We state with certainty and a clear conscience that race did not play any role in the decision that resulted in Prof. Sherley's tenure case not being taken forward," according to the Feb. 5 letter signed by 20 professors.

Sherley, who began a hunger strike on Feb. 5, has demanded immediate tenure, redress for what he says was racism in his treatment, promotion of minority faculty, and censure for the provost involved in his case.

MIT has said his tenure case was assessed and decided on its merits.

Read the faculty statement below:

February 5, 2007

A statement from the MIT Biological Engineering faculty regarding James Sherley's tenure case

Dear Colleagues and Friends

Undoubtedly it has come to your attention that Prof. James L. Sherley is protesting his tenure decision. Out of respect and concern for our colleague Prof. Sherley, until now, no public statements have been made by his colleagues in the Biological Engineering Division.

We state with certainty and a clear conscience that race did not play any role in the decision that resulted in Prof. Sherley's tenure case not being taken forward. As in all tenure and promotion decisions, there was a thorough consideration of Prof. Sherley's accomplishments in research and teaching, of the many letters of evaluation received from experts in Prof. Sherley's research areas, and of his service to MIT and to broader science and engineering communities. We believe in our hearts that, as in all tenure cases in our department, it was a fair and honest process executed at the utmost level of integrity and ethics. It is our collective view that Prof. Sherley was treated fairly.

Sincerely,

Angela Belcher
Peter Dedon
Ed Delong
Forbes Dewey
John Essigmann
Jim Fox
Alan Grodzinsky
Roger Kamm
Alex Klibanov
Harvey Lodish
Paul Matsudaira
Leona Samson
Ram Sasisekharan
David Schauer
Peter So
Steve Tannenbaum
Bruce Tidor
Dane Wittrup
Yanni Yannas
Michael Yaffe

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:50 AM

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Monday, February 12, 2007

MIT professor says he's lost 14 pounds during hunger strike

MIT stem-cell scientist James L. Sherley says he has lost 14 pounds as he enters the second week of a hunger strike to protest the university's decision not to offer him tenure.

In an e-mail to the MIT faculty over the weekend, he demanded that MIT grant him tenure immediately, redress racism in treatment and promotion of minority faculty, and censure Provost Rafael Reif for his role in the tenure decision and its review.

"I plan to continue my hunger strike until MIT's upper administration admits that racism is a major factor in the negative tenure decision and that a corrupt investigation process ensued," wrote Sherley, who is African-American.

Reif has said that the tenure decision is final. In an e-mail message, he welcomed a suggestion by Ceasar L. McDowell, an urban studies professor who said he was speaking for "a significant number of the minority faculty," that Sherley and MIT administrators sit down with a mediator.

"The idea of having a professional mediator help Professor Sherley and the MIT administration engage in a constructive conversation is excellent," Reif wrote in an email.

Sherley called the idea "rubbish."

Here are the e-mails. Sherley's letter to the faculty comes first, followed by his comments to a colleague about McDowell's suggestion about a mediator; then Reif's e-mail and McDowell's:

Sherley's e-mail to faculty

Dear Colleagues and MIT Faculty at Large:

Many of you are aware that I am currently engaged in a hunger
strike to end racism in minority tenure promotions at MIT. The
strike started on Monday, February 5, 2007. Based on my home scale,
I have lost about 14 lbs in the past week. I wish to express my
sincere thanks to those of you who have joined me in my effort to
make MIT a better place and to move MIT to lead in redressing racism
in the academy.

I plan to continue my hunger strike until MIT's upper
administration admits that racism is a major factor in the negative
tenure decision and that a corrupt investigation process ensued. I
demand three specific concessions when this fact is acknowledged.

1. That tenure is granted immediately.

2. That MIT actually start a verifiable process to detect and redress
racism in treatment and tenure promotion of minority faculty. The
recent announcement from President Susan Hockfield (e-mailed February
2, 2007) does not even contain the word "racism."

3. That Provost Rafael Reif is censured because of his actions to
obstruct me from obtaining a fair and diligent investigation of my
complaint that because of racist institutional policies, the racism
and improper handling of my case by the chair of Biological
Engineering (BE), Douglas Lauffenburger, and improper actions by a
member of the MIT Corporation, Susan Whitehead, I received a negative
tenure decision.

I recognize that many faculty are uneasy with the demand for
immediate tenure even if my charges are shown to be true. But there
is nothing less to be done when my charges are shown to be true.
There are precedents at MIT for overturning negative tenure decisions
when the process is found to be corrupt. Even if my case were the
weakest ever, the Institute must safeguard against the erosion of
institutional integrity that comes from corrupt process. We all
recognize that even strong cases often do not receive the grant of
tenure at MIT; but this cannot be permitted to occur for reasons of
discrimination that are outlawed in the greater society. I am not
outraged that my tenure case was not advanced just because I think it
was strong enough for tenure. I am outraged because of the racial
discrimination and corrupt process that operated during its decision
and the subsequent investigation of the process that led to that
decision.

If a process shows that I am correct in my charges that led
to my current hunger strike, then MIT must tenure me to provide a
clear and lasting admission that racism and corrupt process were
responsible, and they will not be tolerated at MIT. Only with repair
of the provoking damage can there be a sound foundation for beginning
effective change to end racism at MIT in minority tenure treatment
and promotion. The cynical among you may advance that I have a
personal motivation for this demand. But I ask you, who but the
injured will bring forth a complaint of racism? And who among you
would subject herself or himself to a hunger strike over something
like tenure? This strike is about redressing a problem that is much
bigger, racism. Racism in America harms us all. It prevents us from
a society based on the ideals of freedom, opportunity, and justice
for all; and it makes us destroy and waste valuable human resources.
Where better but in the academy for a new movement to begin to
continue the efforts that were begun during the civil rights era to
end racism in America.

It occurred to me that it might bring comfort to some of you
that, if you embrace this view of overturn of negative tenure
decisions, you would not open MIT up to accepting a poor tenure case.
Doing this succinctly is a bit of challenge, but I will give you some
examples of external evidence that my tenure case, with the features
that resulted from improper process removed, is of sufficient quality
for tenure at MIT.

1. At the time of my tenure case review, I had national recognition
in the form of an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar Award in
Aging Research. I am one of 5 professors at MIT who are recipients
of this award. The other scholars are Professors Robert Weinberg,
Leonard Guarente, Susan Linquist, and Robert Horvitz, all tenured
professors.
http://www.ellisonfoundation.org/awrds.jsp?program=aging&type=senior&year=2003&show=100

2. Since the negative decision, I received the NIH Director's
Pioneer Award. I am one of two recipients at MIT of this $2.5
million award for innovative research. The other recipient,
Professor Arup Chakraborty, is a tenured professor, as are many, if
in fact not all, of the other recipients.
http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer/Recipients06.aspx

3. At the time of the negative decision, my research program had and
continues to have a growing international presence. This is
indicated by invitations to participate in international conferences
and scholarly undertakings. See examples at the end of this letter.

Finally, on the issue of the quality of my tenure case, I
recognize that there is confusion about this statement from the
provost's January 29 e-mailed "Message to the Faculty."

"As a result, I may not disclose or discuss the substance of
the deliberations of Professor Sherley's tenure case. However, I will
note that three important faculty reviews occurred between January
2005, when Professor Sherley was notified of the decision not to
advance his tenure case, and December 2006, when I notified Professor
Sherley that I am not going to overturn the tenure decision:"

The "three important faculty reviews" is a misstatement on
the part of the provost. First, there were no faculty reviews of the
tenure case other than that which was the basis for the complaint.
The first proceeding was an inquiry conducted by a single faculty
member to provide facts to Provost Robert Brown for his evaluation of
my request for a grievance to investigate my complaint that racism,
improper procedures, and a conflict of interest resulted in a
negative tenure decision. The second proceeding was a grievance in
which a 3-faculty member committee was charged to investigate the
same charges to provide Provost Reif facts for his adjudication of my
complaint. The third proceeding was a second grievance, on appeal to
President Hockfield, with the same committee of 3 faculty. Although
the appeal was partly based on the lack of diligence on the part of
that committee, the provost insisted on retaining the same faculty
members, despite my protest.

During the grievance investigation, I requested that the
committee be disbanded, because, again, their investigation lacked
diligence. The provost again refused to replace them. Conflicts of
interest also abounded on the committee. One committee member had a
potential conflict of interest due to his relationship with one of
the subjects of the investigation, but the provost ignored this
concern. Also, the provost appointed the chair of the committee as
chair of the MIT faculty during the investigation, ignoring how such
an appointment would compromise the work of the committee.

So, all should be clear now, that my tenure case has only
been reviewed my a group of MIT faculty once, for less than an hour
after the BE faculty had already advised Douglas Lauffenburger to
advance two other faculty member's cases for tenure. They did this
without a committee to assemble my case and select referees, conduct
an in-depth look at its merits, and present it to the rest of the
faculty. They did this after Lauffenburger had allowed them only one
week to review the case in his office. He told them what to do, and
they did it. They enabled MIT's racist policies that discriminated
against me when I started at MIT, and they enabled the racist
practices and improper actions of Douglas Lauffenburger that enabled
him to achieve a negative decision. Surely, when my charges are
shown to be true, the MIT faculty can endorse that the corrupt
negative decision must be overturned with all speed. Such a just
action will not injure the sanctity of tenure at MIT. Instead, it
will preserve it, and at the same time move MIT closer to the ideals
that we hold for it.


Sincerely,

James Sherley

Sherley's comments on McDowell suggestion:

Dear Michel:
Please, recognize that this is not great news at all. It's
rubbish. Please, see it for what it is. First of all, members or
the "minority faculty group" like Rafael Bras are working to support
the Provost, by coming to me at the protest to tell me that no
negative tenure case can be overturned, when if fact they have been
in the past when members of upper administration were willing to
admit that wrongdoing had occurred during the decision. That is, the
process was corrupt. In my case, both the decision process and its
investigation by the provost were and continue to be corrupt.
So, in this setting, first a group of minority faculty, many
of whom have been outright critical of my position, even going so far
as to indict my veracity, make a decision that they will now
represent me. In an immediate e-mail to them, I have clearly
rejected that disingenuous, deceitful proposal.
Despite my rejection of this proposal, the provost moves a
head with suggesting yet another evaluation which he is initiating
and will control. It is also noteworthy that my advocate, Kenneth
Manning, has been excluded from these transmissions. Listen, I want
the minority faculty all to get it in their heads, if they are not
talking to Ken, they are not talking to me.
It is a pitiful commentary on minority intellectuals, that so
many of my minority colleagues have allowed themselves to become
selfish enablers of racism at MIT. Michel, now, please, know that I
reserve these comments for those who have not actively joined me in
the protest and decided not to sign the Degraff, McDowell, Chomsky et
al. letter which HELPED ME. How can those have not join me in the
protest and who refused to sign that elegant letter of truth think
that I would trust them to represent me.
Hear me when I say, this protest is not just about me, it is
about the future of minority faculty at universities like MIT. Is
the minority faculty so filled with internalized racism, cynicism,
and self-denial that they believed that I would have lost 14 pounds
from starvation last week over a trivial issue like my own tenure?!
They need to wake up and believe in themselves and their own minority
colleagues. It is time at MIT to "Fight the Power," to recognize
that "We are somebody!", and to put the fire back into achieving
Martin's dream.
Here's my final word for the minority faculty, if they want
to join me in this struggle. Tell Susan Hockfield to hurry up and
get a committee of external advisors for herself on this protest.
Any resolution process cannot have integrity if the provost plays a
role, because it is he who has been charged with obstruction of
justice in my case.
Michel, I continue the struggle without a change in position,
other than allowing the provost censure instead of dismissal. Peace
with joy!

James

Reif's e-mail to McDowell

Forwarded message from -----
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2007
From: L Rafael Reif
Subject: Re: Statement from Min Faculty
To: Ceasar McDowell

Dear Ceasar,

Thank you for your note.

I want to thank you, most sincerely, for all your significant efforts
and those of the minority faculty in this extremely difficult and
painful situation.

The idea of having a professional mediator help Professor Sherley and
the MIT administration engage in a constructive conversation is
excellent. This mediator would be a mutually acceptable person
experienced with educational institutions and in matters including
racial sensitivities. Please help me convey this message to
Professor Sherley.

Sincerely,

Rafael

Ceasar McDowell wrote:


Dear President Hockfield, Provost Reif and Professor Sherley

On February 6, 2007 a significant number of the minority faculty expressed the following opinions:

1. Our community is very worried about the damage that the dispute between Prof. James Sherley and the MIT administration is causing to all the individuals involved and to the Institute.

2. We urge all parties in the dispute to consider external mediation/arbitration.

We stand ready to help in any way that may lead to a resolution of this problem.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:14 PM

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MIT research IDs tumor defense mechanism

MIT scientists have identified a new defense mechanism that tumor cells use to survive chemotherapy, a discovery that could lead to drugs that make existing cancer drugs work better at lower doses.

Writing in the cover story of today's Cancer Cell, Dr. Michael B. Yaffe and his biomedical engineering colleagues explain that once tumors lose their ability to repair DNA that has been damaged by drugs or radiation, they turn to a signaling pathway involved in inflammation in order to survive.

"The exciting thing is we can now target this pathway," said Yaffe, who is also a surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and affiliated with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. "It won't make normal cells any more susceptible to chemo but it will make cancer cells much more sensitive."

The scientists tested their idea by turning off the inflammation pathway in mouse tumors. After they gave low doses of the common cancer drug cisplatin to the mice, their tumors melted away, Yaffe said.

A drug that works against a molecule important in inflammation called MK2 is already being tested. Originally conceived as a treatment for arthritis, it may be modified to thwart just the inflammatory pathway that cancer cells use to survive.

"Our results suggest it might have a second life in helping to treat cancer patients," Yaffe said. "It could mean standard chemotherapy would suddenly become much more effective."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:00 PM

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Narrowing the search for cancer genes

The road to personalized medicine is a bumpy one, but researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute have found a method that might smooth the way.

Writing in yesterday's Nature Genetics, they report on a faster, cheaper method of screening for multiple mutations that turn on cancer genes.

Taking advantage of mass spectrometry, a tool researchers use to detect variations in genes, they were able to narrow down their search for relevant mutations in 1,000 samples of tumor tissue by examining only regions of genes where most troublesome mutations occur.

"You don't have to sequence the entire cancer genome," said Dr. Levi A. Garraway, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber and an associate member of the Broad, a joint MIT-Harvard institute. "All you need to do is look in specific locations."

The researchers discovered that some tumor samples showed mutations not normally expected for the kind of cancer the patient had been diagnosed with. If a patient with pancreatic cancer showed a mutation more commonly found in lung cancer, for example, there might be a treatment to use that would not otherwise have been considered, Garraway said.

The screening method could be used along with the Cancer Genome Atlas, a large, complex project to sequence cancer genes.

There are two barriers to making individualized cancer medicine a reality, the paper says. One is to identify all the genes involved in the spectrum of cancers, and the other is to translate that knowledge into therapies for patients.

"We're trying to pave a way to get past both bottlenecks," Garraway said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:00 AM

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Horse genome sequenced by Broad team

The first draft of the horse genome sequence has been completed by scientists at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, work that has implications for the study of human disease, the National Human Genome Research Institute announced today.

A team led by Kerstin Lindblad-Toh at the joint MIT-Harvard institute began sequencing the domestic horse genome in 2006, culminating a 10-year effort by international scientists called the Horse Genome Project.


twilight.jpg
Twilight, the mare whose genome was sequenced.

The horse whose DNA was used is a Thoroughbred named Twilight from Cornell University. Research done there by Doug Antczak has implications for research on reproduction, clinical organ transplantation and immune regulation, according to the NHGRI.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:54 AM

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Monday, February 5, 2007

Chomsky calls for review of MIT professor's case

Noam Chomsky and 10 other professors at MIT are circulating a letter calling for an examination of the process that denied tenure to African-American stem cell scientist James L. Sherley, who began a hunger strike today.

Sherley is demanding that MIT say he was denied tenure because of racism.

The Chomsky letter questions "the integrity of the grievance process," not the tenure decision, highlighting allegations of conflict of interest, unfair lab space allocation, and the mishandling of a racial prejudice complaint, among other issues.

The full letter appears below.

A PLEA FOR FAIRNESS AT MIT

MIT, Sunday, February 1, 2007

Two years ago, in January 2005, Professor James Sherley, the only African-American faculty member ever appointed in the Division of Biological Engineering (BE), filed a letter of complaint about the division-level evaluation that resulted in the denial of his tenure in BE. Prof. Sherley’s complaints include charges of conflict of interest and racial discrimination. Provost Rafael Reif has now decided that, given the findings of the grievance review committee, Sherley’s tenure denial should stand.

Because charges of conflict of interest and racial discrimination cut at the very core of MIT’s community values, it is imperative that they be thoroughly pursued, wherever they lead. We are writing this letter because we believe that there remain several issues related to Prof. Sherley’s grievance process that need to be further examined. Our concern here is not, and could not be, about the scientific merits of Prof. Sherley’s tenure dossier, which is not available to us and about which we as a group would be in no position to opine. Our concern in this letter is with the integrity of the grievance process. We would like to highlight a sample of evidence that might help decide whether Prof. Sherley’s complaints were given fair, diligent and thorough consideration. The evidence surrounds the following topics:

+ conflict of interest in tenure review;

+ various sorts of unfair treatment to Prof. Sherley as a junior faculty member vis-à-vis:

- space allocation,

- space-related impediments and misinformation during recruitment and hiring,

- problems related to mentorship and tenure review,

- failure to acknowledge achievements;

+ mishandling of complaint of racial prejudice.

Conflict of interest:

The BE Division Head is married to a senior BE faculty member whose relationship with the candidate has been openly contentious. Given this relationship, it would have been appropriate for the BE Division Head to recuse himself from assembling and deciding Prof. Sherley’s tenure case. However, not only did the Division Head fail to recuse himself, but he solicited an internal letter from his wife to be included in the tenure file.

The Provost, in his 12/22/06 letter to Prof. Sherley, summarizing the Review Committee’s report (to which we do not have access), states: “The Committee found that it was appropriate for [the BE Division Head] to solicit an internal reference from [his wife], given the overlap in your research areas and the fact that you had not asked that she be excluded from the list of referees.” In other words the Provost here places the burden for identifying and preempting the conflict of interest on the candidate himself.

This seems to us highly problematic. A tenure candidate should not be expected to openly challenge the judgment of a senior faculty member who will play a key role in deciding the candidate’s tenure status. MIT’s Policies and Procedures (7.2) states: “While general responsibility for assuring adherence to these policies must rest with those responsible for appointments and assignments (principally academic and administrative department heads and laboratory and center directors), a particular responsibility for sensitivity to the potential conflicts falls on those whose family or personal relationships may give rise to them.” This makes it clear that the burden of action lies on department heads and on parties whose relationships may compromise (or give the appearance of compromising) due process in professional decision-making. Thus, as Head of BE and as spouse of a senior BE faculty in open conflict with the candidate, the BE Division Head was, in two distinct ways, responsible for avoiding any appearance or potential of conflict of interest. The BE Division Head failed to fulfill his responsibility. As a result, Prof. Sherley was not duly protected from the appearance of, and the potential for, conflict of interest.

Unfair treatment:

Space allocation and space-related impediments and misinformation during recruitment and hiring


In July 1998, Prof. Sherley was hired into a faculty slot reserved for under-represented minorities as established by a special Provost’s initiative to promote minority recruitment. Such a slot came with certain restrictions on laboratory space: any minority recruited in such a line would have to be given space that is already available from the hiring unit---not additional space by the Provost. As he was being recruited, Prof. Sherley was never told that he would be hired into a special-initiative minority-faculty slot or that such a slot came with restrictions on how space would be allocated to him. This was confirmed in exchanges both with Prof. Sherley and with senior BE faculty involved in his recruitment and hiring. These space restrictions have continued to plague Prof. Sherley throughout his career at MIT. We believe that these facts concerning Prof. Sherley’s recruitment and lab space raise a variety of questions, including questions about Prof. Sherley’s fair treatment as a new recruit and a junior faculty member, and questions about the reliability of the grievance committee’s findings vis-à-vis the size of Prof. Sherley’s independent laboratory space and how much control he could actually exert over this space.

For example, space loaned to Prof. Sherley by a senior faculty in BE has been listed as part of Prof. Sherley’s “independent” lab space. Yet Sherley’s dependence on others for lab space has been used to intimidate and pressure him. On July 3rd, 2006, Prof. Sherley received an email message in which the afore-mentioned senior BE faculty threatened to “formally request return of [this space] to [him].” The senior BE faculty wrote to Sherley: “Remember that it was I who gave you access to that lab.” In that email exchange, the senior faculty’s threat was explicitly stated in response to Prof. Sherley’s handling of a complaint by one of Sherley’s assistants who was feeling harassed by one of the senior faculty’s assistants. As far as can be gathered from the corresponding email exchanges, Prof. Sherley was handling this complaint in the most appropriate fashion, according to the relevant MIT guidelines.

Problems related to mentorship and tenure review


Various concerns also arise in the context of Prof. Sherley’s pre-tenure mentorship and subsequent tenure denial. In question here are descriptions in the Provost’s letters of the role of one Department Head in the School of Engineering, outside of BE, who according to the Provost’s 1/23/06 letter, was asked to “review” Prof. Sherley’s tenure case. As it turns out, this Department Head who was claimed in that letter to have “agreed with [the BE Division Head’s tenure-denial] decision” was subsequently identified as the Head of Aeronautics and Astronautics [Aero-Astro], and the sole African-American Department Head at MIT. The Aero-Astro Head is also the very mentor whom senior BE faculty had recommended to Prof. Sherley and whom Prof. Sherley had consulted about his tenure dossier, before and after the tenure-denial decision. On December 20, 2006, the Aero-Astro Head categorically stated that all he saw of Prof. Sherley’s tenure dossier is what Prof. Sherley himself had shown to him in his capacity of mentor. On that same occasion, the Aero-Astro Head unambiguously stated that it would have been “inappropriate” for him to “review” Prof. Sherley's case. Then and on another occasion (on January 4, 2006), he emphatically denied having done so. Be that as it may, in light of the identification of the Aero-Astro Head as the other Department Head who “reviewed” Prof. Sherley’s case, the Provost’s summary letters dated 1/23/06 and 12/22/06 display obfuscatory statements vis-à-vis the committee’s findings about the Aero-Astro Head’s role in Prof. Sherley’s tenure denial. In his 12/22/06 letter, the Provost states: “The Committee confirmed that [the Aero-Astro Head] did not see the tenure case for you that was presented to the BE faculty.” Whether he did or not, one is left to wonder if the integrity and fairness of Prof. Sherley’s mentorship and/or tenure review were in any way compromised by the Aero-Astro Head’s role therein.

An important aside is in order here with respect to MIT’s commitment to minority recruitment and retention. The above inconsistency in the Provost’s letters is all the more troubling, given the Aero-Astro Head’s stature in the minority-faculty community and the need for reliable mentorship therein. Any mishandling of these issues may have long-lasting effects on the quality of mentorship for younger minority faculty and on the recruitment and retention of minority faculty.

Failure to acknowledge achievements


Prof. Sherley charges that his stature, contributions, and awards have not been duly acknowledged by his senior colleagues and that, even when he demanded acknowledgment, this was denied. Sherley has provided a variety of examples of this pattern. But there’s one that is clearly documented, which relates to Prof. Sherley’s status as the first new faculty appointment in BE.

Prof. Sherley has complained to the Provost that the BE Division Head has never acknowledged his (Sherley’s) distinction as the first new faculty member hired into the newly formed Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health in July 1998. In response to this complaint, the Provost, in his 12/22/06 letter, states: “While you [Sherley] feel that you should have been acknowledged as the first faculty member hired in BE, the Committee found that you were in fact hired in the Toxicology division, prior to the formation of BE.” However official MIT documents (e.g., Prof. Sherley’s initial appointment letter dated July 1st, 1998) contradict the findings of the committee vis-à-vis Prof. Sherley’s initial appointment at MIT. Prof. Sherley’s very first letter of appointment from MIT is dated July 1st, 1998, and lists his affiliation with Bioengineering and Environmental Health, and not with the Toxicology Division. The latter no longer existed as of July 1st, 1998: by then the faculty from the former Toxicology Division had become part of Bioengineering and Environmental Health. This simple fact, as straightforwardly documented by Prof. Sherley’s initial appointment letter from MIT and by the history of BE, raises questions concerning the reliability of the Review Committee’s findings as summarized by the Provost.

Prof. Sherley has asserted that such documented discrepancy about his MIT appointment--- in spite of his (and the BE Administrative Officer’s) attempts at correcting it---is one instance of a larger pattern of discrimination in BE. Statements to the effect that Prof. Sherley was not “the first faculty member hired in BE” do not simply downplay the significance of the facts, but they take away his place in the history of BE and his legacy to that Division. Though it may seem insignificant to some, Prof. Sherley’s place in BE’s history, especially given the fact that he’s still the only African-American faculty member in BE, is powerfully symbolic in the context of race relations at MIT and elsewhere. It is thus unfortunate that the Provost's 12/22/06 letter furthers the slight: it suggests that Prof. Sherley's “feel[ings]” are the source of the error rather than close attention to the facts whose documentation lies within the purview of the Provost’s office.

Mishandling of complaint of racial prejudice


Racial attitudes, as is well known, are usually complicated and deeply nuanced. When complaints about racial prejudice arise, every possible angle ought to be pursued to reach a reasonable understanding as to influence and impact. Committee members ought to be well versed in the problems involved through experience, knowledge and/or deep reflection and sensitivity. With these caveats in mind, consider the following statement from the Provost’s 12/22/06 letter to Prof. Sherley: “Although one personal opinion differed, the Committee found strong evidence that racial prejudice did not affect the evaluations of your tenure case among the BE faculty, and found no evidence (as opposed to that opinion) to the contrary”. The Provost’s statement that the committee found “strong evidence” that racial discrimination did not occur in this case leaves us wondering. While a committee could reasonably state that they uncovered no evidence of racial discrimination, for them to claim to have “found strong evidence that racial prejudice did not affect [said tenure] evaluations” strikes us as highly implausible, especially in this case. And what about that “one personal opinion” in opposition to the committee’s conclusion? Is that an opinion of a senior BE faculty? If so, it would plausibly be based on first-hand observations of two crucial sorts of data: interactions between Prof. Sherley and his BE colleagues, and comments about Prof. Sherley by his BE colleagues. Such “personal opinion” should not be so readily dismissed.

Taken all together, the above evidence calls into question the grievance committee’s findings and, by extension, the Provost’s decision to conclude Prof. Sherley’s tenure case on the basis of those findings. Furthermore the above facts suggest that it is impossible to separate the specifics and eventual resolution of Prof. Sherley's case from the “barriers that may exist for under-represented minority faculty members and [...] effects that race may play in the hiring, advancement and experience of under-represented minority faculty” (this is a quotation from the last paragraph in the Provost's 1/29/07 message to the MIT faculty about Professor Sherley’s grievance; this message is posted at http://web.mit.edu/provost/letters/letter01292007.html ).

In conclusion we are left doubtful as to whether the grievance review committee exercised due diligence in investigating, ferreting out, and interpreting evidence, and in distinguishing fact from opinion. We therefore believe that the following measures are in order:

All aspects of the grievance process should be reviewed by a committee composed of members from inside and outside of MIT to determine the adequacy and fairness of the process. Details of this review should be reported to the faculty in full and in a timely fashion.

Should the committee determine that the process was flawed or inadequate, then appropriate redress should be made to Prof. Sherley.

Last Friday (2/2/07) President Hockfield rehearsed the Provost’s announcement on 1/29/07 of “plans to undertake a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic study of the impact of race on the hiring, advancement, and experience of minority faculty at the Institute” and “to take a position of leadership on this important issue.” Unfortunately, given the above and related evidence pertaining to Prof. Sherley’s grievance process, we feel obliged to point out that, while such an initiative is essential and long overdue, it appears to run counter to the administration’s actions vis-à-vis Prof. Sherley’s grievance.

Signers:

Noam Chomsky

Institute Professor

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Michel DeGraff

Associate Professor

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Junot Díaz

Associate Professor

Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies

Sally Haslanger

Professor

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Jonathan Alan King

Professor

Department of Biology

Melvin H. King

Senior Lecturer Emeritus

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Helen Elaine Lee

Associate Professor

Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies

Ceasar L. McDowell

Professor of the Practice of Community Development

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Chi-Sang Poon

Principal Research Scientist

Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology

Phillip J. Thompson

Associate Professor

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Elizabeth Wood

Professor

History Faculty

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:46 AM

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MIT professor starts hunger strike

African-American stem cell scientist James L. Sherley started a hunger strike this morning, demanding that MIT offer him tenure, begin to address racism and censure the provost for his role in his case.

"How can we accept that we have so many well-trained people and so few are tenured?" he asked a group of about 30 professors, former students, family and friends who gathered just outside the offices of MIT President Susan Hockfield and Provost L. Rafael Reif this morning. "What I have discussed here is that if you are African-American, part of a minority group, it is acceptable for you to have insufficient lab space ... and it is allowable for your accomplishments to be ignored."

james sherley -2.jpg
James Sherley, at right, begins his hunger strike in an MIT hallway.
(Photo by David L. Ryan, Globe staff)


Sherley vowed to stand outside the president/provost's office daily between 9 and 12 until the administration meets his demands.

MIT has said that a committee convened to review the tenure process for Sherley found that it was fair.

Supporters held signs and distributed fliers this morning listing his accomplishments and demanding "End racism at MIT."

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay called on the MIT community to respect Sherley's right to disagree publicly.

"We take seriously, and are gravely concerned by, Professor Sherley's intentions," he wrote in an email to students. "While we have encouraged him to seek other means to express his views, the Institute will respect his right, as a member of our community, to publicly express his disagreement in a manner that does not disrupt the work of the Institute or put others in the community at risk."

Noam Chomsky and 10 other MIT professors are asking for further examination of the situation.

"Because charges of conflict of interest and racial discrimination cut at the very core of MIT’s community values, it is imperative that they be thoroughly pursued, wherever they lead," they wrote in a letter called a "Plea for Fairness at MIT."

Sherley, one of 28 black professor at the time of the tenure decision, has been battling the university for two years. MIT has said repeatedly the decision is final. Sherley has also been controversial because he opposes using embryonic stem cells in research, believing it takes human life; he works with adult stem cells only.

"One of the things we have to recognize in America is that when we
are all free, we are all better off," Sherley said in closing this morning.
-- April Simpson and Elizabeth Cooney

Chancellor Clay's email:

To MIT Students:

This morning, Professor James L. Sherley has begun a fast to express his disagreement with the decision not to promote him to tenure and with the outcome of his grievance process. Three reviews have concluded that the tenure process in his case was fair and proper and that there is no evidence that race influenced the process. The Provost has reviewed the history of the case in a recent letter to the faculty, which is available at .

We take seriously, and are gravely concerned by, Professor Sherley's
intentions. While we have encouraged him to seek other means to express his views, the Institute will respect his right, as a member of our community, to publicly express his disagreement in a manner that does not disrupt the work of the Institute or put others in the community at risk.

I am writing to you for three reasons. First, I ask all of you to respect Professor Sherley's right to disagree publicly, regardless of your own views about the case. I also ask you to respect each other's views about the case. Respect for free expression is an important value in our community, and benefits all of us.

At the same time, I am aware that many members of our community do not
understand how the tenure process works. Over the next few days, we will provide a number of venues to discuss the tenure process and related matters. I invite those of you with concerns about the process to take advantage of these opportunities to take part in an important community dialogue.

Finally, I urge you to consider our community values. We are committed to creating and sustaining a community that is diverse in many important ways: in race and ethnicity, in gender, and in economic, cultural, and national backgrounds. While we have much to celebrate in these domains, we must continue to explore how we can do better and how we can maintain an environment in which we can all thrive and in which we can take pride. Your efforts to advance diversity, in your student communities and in your relationships, are important contributions to our community.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Phillip L. Clay
Chancellor

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:15 AM

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Dueling emails in MIT stem cell scientist's tenure case

MIT provost L. Rafael Reif sent a campus-wide e-mail today defending the school's treatment of James L. Sherley, the African-American stem cell scientist who has vowed to go on a hunger strike Feb. 5 unless the university says he was denied tenure because of racism.

Confidential tenure discussions cannot be disclosed, Reif wrote, but he itemized three faculty reviews of the 2005 decision not to consider Sherley for tenure. Based on those reviews, Reif wrote, "I decided not to overturn the decision in the tenure case. This action is final."

Sherley has been controversial because he opposes using embryonic stem cells in research, believing it takes human life; he works with adult stem cells only. He circulated his own e-mail yesterday, responding to the provost's.

"Racism is enabled and fostered by secret procedures; and tenure evaluation is one of the most cloaked processes in the
Institute," he wrote, vowing to proceed with his hunger strike outside the offices of Reif and President Susan Hockfield.

Reif said he has extended Sherley's appointment through June 30 to give him time to "move forward with his career," and he described plans to create a "committee of leaders" to explore how race affects minority faculty members at MIT. Sherley was one of 28 black professors at MIT at the time of the tenure decision.

Read the e-mails below:

From: "L. Rafael Reif"
Date: January 29, 2007 8:00:27 AM EST
To: "MIT Faculty"
Subject: Message to the MIT Faculty

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

Many of you have asked me about the published reports that our
colleague, James L. Sherley, has expressed strong opposition to the decisions and processes regarding his tenure case. He believes that race was a factor in the decision not to grant him tenure. We consider charges of this nature with the utmost seriousness. Issues of fairness and the integrity of our academic processes are matters
of fundamental concern to the Institute.

The policies and procedures for MIT's faculty mandate that the substance of tenure evaluations and deliberations be kept confidential to assure the integrity of the process and to respect individual privacy. As a result, I may not disclose or discuss the substance of the deliberations of Professor Sherley's tenure case. However, I will note that three important faculty reviews occurred between January 2005, when Professor Sherley was notified of the decision not to advance his tenure case, and December 2006, when I notified Professor Sherley that I am not going to overturn the tenure decision:

1. At the request of former Provost Robert Brown, a senior member of the faculty carried out a fact-finding review to answer questions raised by Professor Sherley relating to his tenure case. Professor Sherley agreed with the selection of the faculty member to act as fact finder and provided the specific questions to be addressed. Subsequent to the report of the faculty fact-finder, Professor Sherley filed a formal internal grievance.

2. Early in my service as provost, I asked an ad hoc committee of senior faculty members to address issues Professor Sherley raised in his grievance, including allegations of racial discrimination and conflict of interest. Professor Sherley agreed with the initial selection of the Committee members and was provided the opportunity to review and modify the charge to the Committee. Based on the Committee's detailed report of its investigation and its findings
regarding the adequacy and fairness of the tenure process in
Professor Sherley's case, I advised Professor Sherley that the original tenure decision would stand. Subsequently, Professor Sherley appealed this decision to President Hockfield and advanced additional information that he had not previously brought forward.

3. Because of the seriousness of this matter, the decision was made
to go back to the Committee and to ask them to review Professor
Sherley's additional information. Professor Sherley was given the
opportunity to review and comment on what was sent to the Committee.
The Committee produced a detailed addendum to its original report.
Again, the Committee found that the process in Professor Sherley's
tenure case was adequate and fair. Based on this addendum and the
original report, I decided not to overturn the decision in the tenure
case. This action is final.

I have recently extended the appointment of Professor Sherley through
June 30, 2007. I expect that this time will allow Professor Sherley
and the Institute to develop transition plans that provide for the
continuity of effort and the well being of his research group and for
Professor Sherley to move forward with his career.

Since becoming Provost, and more intensely in the past several months, I have had conversations with many members of MIT's faculty to talk about how race affects the recruitment, retention, and experiences of under-represented minority faculty members at MIT. President Hockfield and I are deeply committed to removing barriers that may exist for under-represented minority faculty members and to examining and assessing effects that race may play in the hiring, advancementand experience of under-represented minority faculty. As a first step, and using the study of the status of women in science as a
guide, we will work with the minority faculty and others to establish
a committee of leaders, and provide them with the necessary resources,
to undertake a comprehensive, rigorous and systematic study of these
issues. President Hockfield and I look forward to reaching out to, and working with, the entire MIT community in these efforts.

Sincerely,

L. Rafael Reif


Sherley's response:

Subject: Open Letter From James L. Sherley: A second plea for help to end racism at MIT


Dear faculty, staff, students and friends at MIT and abroad:

This open letter has a number of purposes. First, I wish to thank those of you who have offered, so graciously, your support, your counsel, your encouragement, your activism, and in some cases your genuine reservations for the protest path that I started on December 19, 2007. Your concerned engagement has lifted my spirit and my hope that change can come, that the grip of racism on American life can one day not only be loosened, but also eventually eliminated completely.

A second purpose is to share with all that, thus far, MIT's upper administration has not addressed my protest demands. Therefore, I continue with the plan for the next phase of my protest. Unless MIT's upper administration addresses these demands, I will begin a hunger strike at 9 AM on the morning of Monday February 5, 2007 outside of the offices of President Susan Hockfield and Provost Rafael Reif, Room 208 in Building 3 on MIT's campus. I will protest in person every morning in this location for as long my health allows it. Thereafter, I will continue my hunger strike even if I am unable to stand in person at the door of 3-208. I am hopeful that I will not have to stand alone and, when I am no longer able, that some among you will rise to stand in my stead. Racism must end at MIT.

Some of you may be aware that mine is not the first voice to call attention to entrenched racism at MIT. In September 1986, hardly a generation ago, then Dean of Student Affairs, Shirley M. McBay, chaired the Minority Student Issues Group that issued a report on "The Racial Climate on the MIT Campus." This report received
national recognition, but cold resistance from MIT's upper
administration. In the preface of the report, Dean McBay wrote,
"MIT must think anew about its policies and procedures for dealing
with racism and racist behavior on its campus. It must reaffirm its
intent to provide a supportive and non-hostile environment for all
who study, live, and work here."

Dean McBay's clarion words still apply today, twenty years later.
The question must be asked whether changes in the degree of racial discrimination at MIT over the past twenty years reflect anything more than national trends. Has MIT led in redressing racism, or has it only reluctantly followed the limited pluralist changes in the greater American society? It is noteworthy that the McBay report did not consider racist practices in tenure promotion at MIT. MIT has not evaluated the role that racism plays in its abysmal record for tenured minority faculty. Instead, MIT takes the racist approach of throwing up the hands and shrugging the shoulders with the convenient excuse that there is a pipeline problem, when the actual barrier is racism that obstructs the end of the pipeline, a pipeline that is full of invisible tragic stories of racial discrimination. Racism is enabled and fostered by secret procedures; and tenure evaluation is one of the most cloaked processes in the Institute.

I discovered racism in my own tenure promotion case at MIT; but I am determined to shine a big bright searchlight on the racially-motivated human tragedy of career destruction and death in MIT's minority faculty pipeline. I protest not only for myself, but also for the many who were persecuted before and the many who might otherwise bear the injury of racism in the future. In ten years, when my daughters are attending universities like MIT, I want to see change. I want to see talented, hardworking minority faculty filling
the ranks of tenured faculty based on their brilliance and industry,
not still absent because of the capricious whims of faculty and high-level administrators who are motivated by racist ideologies.

Statement of Protest Demands

On January 24, 2007, Provost Reif changed his plan to terminate my appointment on January 31, 2007. He extended it to June
30, 2007. However, he stated in his letter, "This extension provides ample time to develop and implement a transition from MIT that allows you to continue to advance your professional career and provides an appropriate transition for those who currently work in your lab."

Thus, he continues to obstruct my right to a fair and just hearing of
my complaint that my tenure case was unfairly decided because of racial discrimination, conflict of interest, and improper actions on
the part of members of the MIT faculty and the MIT Corporation.

The explanation for Provost Reif's persistent preemptory attitude that I should leave MIT before receiving a fair investigation will expose a rotten spot of racism in MIT's internal institutional policies regarding the hire and tenure evaluation of minority faculty. I hope that the honest and just among you will seek an explanation. The complaint itself delineates the racist practices of members of the BE faculty, in particular its head Professor Douglas Lauffenburger.

At my request, I met with Associate Provost Claude Canizares and my MIT advocate, Prof. Kenneth Manning, on the afternoon of January 24, 2007 to share my protest demands and their basis. These demands are:

1. Professor Sherley must receive an immediate grant of tenure as an
admission that his tenure case was unfairly reviewed and decided and
that his formal complaint against the negative decision was unfairly
handled.

2. MIT must acknowledge the racism discovered in Professor Sherley's
treatment as a faculty member in Biological Engineering (BE) on the
part of Provost Robert Brown, Professor Douglas Lauffenburger the head of BE, and other identifiable faculty members (e.g., Professor
Steven Tannenbaum). MIT must acknowledge that Professor Sherley's
experience is not an isolated one. MIT must announce an immediate
commitment of resources, faculty effort, and administration effort to
develop new effective policies for eliminating racism at MIT, with
special attention to institutional and individual racist practices
that constitute unfair barriers to recruitment and tenure of minority
faculty.

3. MIT must obtain the resignation of Provost Rafael Reif because of
his demonstrated obstruction of the formal grievance proceeding that
addressed Professor Sherley's complaint.

Statement of Merit for Tenure

A third purpose of this open letter is to address a question
that some are asking.

"Exactly what has Professor Sherley done to merit tenure at MIT?"

I have established an internationally recognized research program focused on the investigation of adult stem cell asymmetric self-renewal. Asymmetric self-renewal is the signature property of adult stem cells. At the time of Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger's decision to withhold my tenure case from review by Engineering Council, I had 8 invitations for international university seminars and professional meeting plenary presentations. Since that time, the number of international invitations has increased to 14, including a research presentation at the Vatican in Rome. In addition, I have contributed original chapters to two books with international editors and authors.

I have led groups of talented undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and research scientists in a research program that discovered the first known molecular and biochemical pathways that control adult stem cell asymmetric self-renewal. Our work identified the quintessential cancer gene, p53, as a key regulator of adult stem cell function. At MIT, this foundation of new knowledge was used to address the most challenging problems in stem cell biology. These problems are expanding adult stem cells in culture, discovering markers for their exclusive detection, and investigating their molecular function. In 2003, my group published the first-ever rational method for routine expansion of adult stem cells in culture. In addition, in 2002, we published the first-ever direct demonstration of the validity of a profound adult stem cell hypothesis that had not yielded to other laboratories for more than 25 years. The report of our accomplishment and method induced a flourish of new scientific studies on this topic.

At the time of Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger's negative decision, my MIT faculty personnel record (FPR) listed 45 major publications, 36 as a principal investigator, and 26 at MIT. (I spent the first 6 years of my principal investigator career at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.) There were 95 invited seminars and conference plenary talks, 93 as a principal investigator, 61 at MIT, 5 for industry, and 8 international. There were 12 patent applications and technology disclosures, 11 at MIT, and 1 licensed. Twenty news articles had appeared in scientific journals, university newspapers, and general newspapers noting the impact of my group's research. My program was funded with $747,000 per year in direct costs.

Despite the distractions and personnel contraction of the past two years spent pursuing a fair investigation of my complaint, my group has continued to be productive. My current FPR lists 62 major publications, 53 as a principal investigator, 43 at MIT. There are 119 total seminars and conference plenary talks, 117 as a principal investigator, 85 at MIT. There are now 18 patents and technology disclosures, 17 at MIT, 1 licensed. Our program is funded with $1.2 million per year in direct costs.

These achievements put my research program in a unique position to identify exclusive markers for adult stem cells, enable applications for new cellular therapies, and continue our research to elucidate unique properties of adult stem cells. They have also lead to significant scientific and service awards. To my knowledge, I am one of only 4 professors at MIT who have received the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Award. The other scholars are Professors James Dicarlo, Paul Matsudaira, and Earl K. Miller. I am the only MIT professor who has been inducted into the Pew Science and
Society Institute as a member of the first entering class. I am one
of 5 professors at MIT who are recipients of the Ellison Medical
Foundation Senior Scholar Award in Aging Research. The other scholars are Professors Robert Weinberg, Leonard Guarente, Susan
Linquist, and Robert Horvitz. I am one of two recipients at MIT of
the NIH Director's Pioneer Award, a $2.5 million award for innovative
research. I am also one of two MIT recipients of the Spectrum Trailblazer Award; and I am a 2005 recipient of MIT's Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award.

Evidence of Provost Rafael Reif's Obstruction of the Tenure Decision
Complaint

In my previous two open letters, I have spoken to Provost Reif's action to obstruct my complaint of an unfair negative decision by Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger based on racism, conflict of interest, and the impact of the improper action of Susan Whitehead, a lifetime
member of the MIT Corporation and the chair of the BE Visiting Committee. In addition, the failure of Provost Robert Brown to disclose his close personal relationship with Professor Lauffenburger
and his spouse Professor Linda Griffith completely invalidated the
investigation of my complaint before Provost Reif took over. However, Provost Reif's adjudication is also devoid of integrity. Provost Reif's own words written in his final decision letter sent to me on December 22, 2006 clearly demonstrate his obstruction of my complaint.

What shall we say about a Provost who responded in the following manner to the charge that the BE faculty provided an advisory tenure vote to the head of BE, Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger, when they were not themselves familiar with the tenure case?

"4. The Committee found that neither BE nor any other departments with which the Committee was familiar had or enforced a policy that
required senior faculty to read all materials in a tenure case before
the meeting to consider that case, so that if your materials were not
read by all senior faculty in BE before the meeting on your case, you
were not treated differently in any material sense from others
considered for tenure."

What shall we say about a Provost who responded in the following manner to the charge that Prof. Douglas Lauffenburger repeatedly hid the fact that I was the first appointment in the new Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health (BEH), which later changed its name to BE? My appointment letter signed by Provost Robert Brown on July 1, 1998 states "Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health," but Provost Reif wrote, "3. While you feel that you should have been acknowledged as the first faculty member hired in BE, the Committee found that you were in fact hired in the Toxicology division, prior to the formation of BE."

What shall we say about a Provost who responded in the following manner to a charge that a conflict of interest existed that prevented me from obtaining a fair evaluation of my case for tenure? "1. The additional findings of the Committee did not change their earlier conclusion that the evidence does not support your allegations that conflicts of interest adversely affected the consideration of your tenure case.

2. The Committee found that it was appropriate for Professor
Lauffenburger to solicit an internal reference letter from Professor
Griffith, given the overlap in your research areas and the fact that
you had not asked that she be excluded from the list of referees."

Such juxtaposition of ideas is incomprehensible, except as a frank
obstruction of the complaint. To their credit, it appears that the
investigation committee considered the conflict of interest complaint, despite the Provost's earlier instruction that they should
not.

Another inconsistent juxtaposition occurs between Provost Reif's first negative decision letter, sent to me on January 23, 2006, and the currently discussed one from December 22, 2006. On January 23, 2006 he wrote:

"The Committee pursued the question and learned that, after Professor
Lauffenburger reached his decision not to bring your case to Engineering Council, he asked both the Dean and another department head in the School to review your case to advise him whether or not
they agreed with his decision, and they both said they did. The Committee reported that obtaining such confirmatory opinions has been
done in other cases in the past, as well."

The chair of the investigation committee, Professor Steven Lerman,
told my MIT advocate, Professor Kenneth Manning, that the "another
department head" was Professor Wesley Harris, who is African American
and chair of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Professor Harris had acted as my confidential tenure advisor for
several years, and I continued to consult with him for a short time
after Professor Lauffenburger's negative decision. To others, he has
denied playing this role in Prof. Lauffenburger's negative decision.
It is also important to note that Prof. Lauffenburger did not use
this decision process for the tenure cases of two white faculty
members who he evaluated for tenure at the same time.

In Provost Reif's December 22 final notice, he writes:

"11. The Committee confirmed that Professor Harris did not see the
tenure case for you that was presented to the BE faculty."

However, he does not say that Professor Lauffenburger did not consult
with Professor Harris for a confirmatory opinion. Surely, this
glaring contradiction in the Provost's own words indicates a lack of
integrity in the grievance investigation. An explanation for this
contradiction must be demanded. In addition, the chair of the
investigation committee, Prof. Steven Lerman, now refuses to discuss
this important matter.

What shall we say about a Provost who continues to pervert my
complaint of inadequate independent lab space to one of lesser lab
space that other junior faculty? The fact that I have been allotted
only 355 sq. ft. of independent lab space, despite repeated requests
for adequate independent lab space to Prof. Lauffenburger, is prima
facie evidence of racist MIT policies for the hire of minority
faculty and racist practices by individuals who administer resources
to minority faculty. Every laboratory scientist knows the crucial
importance of independent laboratory space. Yet, for my entire 8
years at MIT, I have been abandoned to face alone the many
prohibitions on my research program because of sharing space with
senior faculty who were forced to provide their own space by the
racist actions of Provost Robert Brown. Provost Reif wrote only one
obtuse statement regarding my complaint about the quality of the
research space I was provided by Professor Lauffenburger.

"10. While the Committee's first review had determined you were not
provided less funding or space than nonminority junior faculty, they
considered the additional information you presented concerning BPEC
grants, support for the Dupont Alliance, and space, and found no
basis to change their earlier conclusion."

Finally, what shall we in the MIT community and abroad say about a Provost who wrote the following response to the charge of racism in MIT's tenure promotion process, but decided to ignore the importance of the report that provoked it?

"12. Although one personal opinion differed, the Committee found
strong evidence that racial prejudice did not affect the evaluations
of your tenure case among the BE faculty, and found no evidence (as
opposed to that opinion) to the contrary."

Thus, the Provost chooses to ignore the significance of an
independent report that racism played a role in my tenure review in
BE at MIT. In the McBay report of 1986, MIT learned that the voices
who were willing to accept the risks of speaking out against racism
would be few and suppressed. This important lesson has been
forgotten. I am one who has decided to take up Shirley McBay's
clarion call to end racism at MIT. I hope that you will join me in
the struggle.


Yours sincerely,

James Sherley


Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:06 PM
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