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HHS awards annual grants to five UMMS researchers

35th annual meeting highlighted studies into COVID-19 vaccines, treatment

At the 35th Annual Meeting of the Hudson Hoagland Society, held virtually on May 20, members and guests heard about research with extraordinary relevance and currency, including an approach to a vaccine for COVID-19.

The 2020 recipients of Worcester Foundation Research Grants
were announced at the annual meeting in May 2020.

Trudy Morrison, PhD, professor of microbiology & physiological systems, discussed the history and potential for her research into virus-like particles (VLPs) as a mechanism for creating a protective immune response to novel viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Morrison has been investigating the use of viral proteins as a protective for more than two decades and spoke about the immense complexity of developing a safe and targeted therapeutic for viral infection.

Thoru Pederson, PhD, the Vitold Arnett Professor of Cell Biology, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and scientific director of the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research when it merged with UMass Medical School in 1997, announced the 2020 recipients of Worcester Foundation Research Grants, which are supported by gifts to the Hudson Hoagland Society.

Included in this year’s grants are:

  • The Bassick Family Foundation Award, which has been granted annually since 2014. The recipient, Dr. Morrison, was selected for her work on VLPs developed for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and how they may hold key to a COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • The M.C. Chang Memorial Award, a new award supported by the generosity of the family of WFBR research giant Min Chueh Chang, who co-discovered the oral contraceptive known as the pill and pioneered in vitro fertilization. The recipient, Dr. Yeh, was selected on the merit of his research proposal on the effects of hormone-targeted breast cancer drugs on other susceptible, healthy organs in a women's body, a major clinical challenge.

In addition to Dr. Morrison’s presentation, Chancellor Michael F. Collins and Provost Terence R. Flotte discussed nearly two dozen active research projects taking place at UMMS related to COVID-19, including basic science research to understand the virus and its infectivity and mutability; possible therapeutic approaches, including vaccine and monoclonal antibody research; projects to study the spread of the virus in populations and new approaches to potential therapeutics, such as the use of small bits of RNA to stimulate an immune response.

The Hudson Hoagland Society, named for the co-founder of the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research, is predicated on the understanding that biomedical research leads scientists and society in unexpected directions, and that support for pioneering research is a necessity.

2020 Worcester Foundation Research Grant Recipients

  • Brian Kelch, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology
    A nanoparticle decoy as a SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic
  • Trudy Morrison, PhD, professor of microbiology & physiological systems
    Development of a virus-like particle vaccine candidate for SARS-CoV-2 (The Bassick Family Foundation Award)
  • Heidi Leftwich, DO, assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology
    The impact of COVID-19 in tipping the maternal-fetal immunologic balance
  • Kuang Shen, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine
    A molecular study of SARS-CoV-2
  • John Ju-hon Yeh, MD, professor of obstetrics & gynecology
    FMR1 as a gene marker to predict status of future ovarian function in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy (The M.C. Chang Memorial Award)

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