2023 Disruptive Dozen
The 12 Most Disruptive Technologies
The ”Disruptive Dozen” results from interviews of one hundred Mass General Brigham senior Harvard faculty followed by a rigorous selection process to identify the twelve mostly likely to have significant impact on healthcare.
Mass General Brigham
#12 | Slowing the Progression of Type 1 Diabetes
Rachel Whooten, MD
Pediatric Endocrinologist, MGH; Assistant Professor, HMS
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic illness that results when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, destroying the cells and creating a life-long dependence on exogenous insulin. Although insulin replacement is an effective treatment, it is not a cure. A newly approved drug that targets a critical protein on T-cells, deactivating them and thwarting their destruction of insulin-producing cells, has been shown to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in children and young adults at high risk for the disease.
#11 | Toward a Simple, Cost-Effective Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease
Steven Arnold, MD
Director, Alzheimer’s Clinical & Translational Research Unit, Translational Neurology Head & Managing Director, Interdisciplinary Brain Center, MGH; Professor of Neurology, HMS
Researchers are working develop a simple, cost-effective way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions decades before the onset of physical symptoms — when the course of the disease could potentially be halted or perhaps even reversed. Such a diagnostic test could rapidly accelerate the development of effective treatments for these diseases, and also form a key piece of the puzzle for lowering the future public health burden of Alzheimer’s disease, which is projected to skyrocket by 2050.
#10 | Protecting Retinal Cells to Preserve Vision
Joan Miller, MD
Chair of Ophthalmology, Mass Eye and Ear and MGH; Ophthalmologist-in-Chief, BWH; David Glendenning Cogan Professor of Ophthalmology; HMS
The retina is home to specialized neurons that are required for normal vision. Several different conditions cause these neurons to degenerate and die, resulting in impaired vision and eventually blindness. Now, various strategies are underway to develop neuroprotective therapies that can protect these cells from injury and death, thereby preserving vision. These therapies could help patients with a range of retinal diseases, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and optic neuropathies.
#9 | AI Tool Predicts Lung Cancer Risk in Smokers and Non-smokers
Florian Fintelmann, MD
Radiologist, Physician-Scientist, MGH; Associate Professor of Radiology, HMS
Researchers developed an artificial intelligence-based tool that can predict whether patients will develop lung cancer within 6 years. The AI tool, which promises to help close important gaps in lung cancer screening efforts, uses images from low-dose CT scans to accurately predict patients’ future risk of lung cancer for both smokers and non-smokers. Early detection efforts are focused largely on patients with a history of cigarette use. Yet a recent rise in lung cancer among non-smokers suggests a need for new approaches.
#8 | Defining a New Era of Precision Oncology
David Ting, MD
Associate Clinical Director for Innovation, Mass General Cancer Center; Associate Professor of Medicine, HMS
A new class of bifunctional precision cancer therapies is gaining traction, in which one part of the drug is designed to zero in on tumor cells and the second part delivers a cancer-killing payload while limiting damage to healthy cells and tissues. One approach involves linking tumor-homing molecules to radionuclides, which use radiation to destroy tumor cells. Another uses antibodies coupled to chemotherapy drugs. Together, these therapies are improving outcomes for cancer patients and defining a new era of precision oncology.
#7 | A Novel Non-Hormonal Treatment for Menopause
Stephanie Seminara, MD
Chief, Reproductive Endocrine Unit, MGH; Professor of Medicine, HMS
Many women experience a range of symptoms during the transition to menopause, including hot flashes, which can be extremely debilitating. Hormone therapy is the most effective current treatment, but some women cannot take it due to health concerns; others choose to avoid it. Now, a novel, non-hormonal drug was recently approved that can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes, promising a safe, effective, non-hormonal approach for controlling menopause symptoms.
#6 | The First “In Human” Gene Editing Therapy
Roger Hajjar, MD
Director, Gene & Cell Therapy Institute, Mass General Brigham
One of the first in vivo gene-editing therapies is now in early-stage clinical trials and, if proven safe and effective, could signify a landmark in the history of biopharmaceuticals. The one-time therapy uses a genome editing system, known as CRISPR-Cas9, to make double-stranded cuts in the DNA and repair errors in the genetic code. It targets a disease known as transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR), which arises when a misfolded protein forms abnormal clumps and damages important tissues and organs, like the nerves and heart.
#5 | Harnessing the Power of Large Language Models to Improve Health Care
Vesela Kovacheva, MD, PhD
Director of Translational and Clinical Research, BWH; Assistant Professor of Anesthesia, HMS
Large language models (LLMs) are a form of artificial intelligence that work by sifting through massive datasets to discern patterns and relationships among words — a process known as training. Once these models are sufficiently trained, they can perform a variety of language-based functions, including recognizing, summarizing, translating, generating, and predicting text. LLMs could have a significant impact in medicine by streamlining and supporting the work of physicians. Two key areas include clinical decision support and administrative workflows — offering information and suggestions at the point of care and reducing the time spent on manual, repetitive tasks.
#4 | New Therapies for ALS
James Berry, MD
Neurologist/ALS Clinical Researcher, MGH; Associate Professor, HMS
Two new treatments were recently approved for ALS, bringing the total number of approved drugs to just seven. One involves a pair of drugs that work together in combination to prevent neurons from dying. The other is a gene-based therapy tailored to patients with a rare genetic form of ALS. While the unmet need for ALS therapies remains high, these new therapies signal an important step forward.
#3 | Building the Next Generation of mRNA Vaccines
Lindsey Baden, MD
Vice President Clinical Research, BWH; Professor, HMS
mRNA technology took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic as it was central to the development of life-saving vaccines, which have proven safe and effective in millions of people worldwide. Now, a new generation of mRNA vaccines is under development, and could advance the treatment of a wide range of diseases, from common respiratory infections to long-standing global scourges to cancer.
#2 | RSV Vaccine Approaches the Clinic
Chadi El Saleeby, MD
Associate Pediatrician, Mass General for Children; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, HMS
After years of painstaking work, a vaccine that protects against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is at last within reach. RSV typically causes mild or no illness, but in vulnerable populations, including the very young and the elderly, it can be a serious threat. An early vaccine developed in the 1960s failed tragically: rather than protect against disease, it made the illness worse. Now, armed with decades of knowledge of RSV biology and immunology, scientists have forged a path toward a safe, effective vaccine.
#1 | New Type 2 Diabetes Drugs Show Promise in Obesity
Gerard Doherty, MD
Surgeon-in-Chief, BWH; Moseley Professor of Surgery, HMS
New drugs that mimic a hormone that curbs hunger, called GLP-1, are blazing a new trail in weight loss. These drugs, which were first approved for type 2 diabetes, have been shown to help some patients lose more than 15 percent of their starting weight. With a worldwide surge in obesity rates, the drugs could enable safe, effective weight reduction without the need for invasive measures and possibly help reduce the adverse outcomes linked with obesity. But there are important concerns, too, including the uncertainties associated with long-term use, equity, access, and the potential harms of a society that overemphasizes weight loss.