I am Harvard Catalyst: Alexander Lin

Bridging Technology to Treatment: A researcher uses advanced technology and innovative collaborations to improve diagnosis of traumatic brain injury.

Researcher:

Alexander Lin, PhD
HMS Instructor in Radiology
Brigham & Women's Hospital

Research Summary:

Dr. Lin uses magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure brain chemistry to identify traumatic brain injuries.

Translational Activity:

Tell us about yourself and your research interests.

I am a clinical spectroscopist in the Department of Radiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Instructor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. For the past 12 years, I have been working with a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). We call it a virtual biopsy. Instead of performing a surgical excision to examine tissues in the brain - or any other body tissue for that matter - MRS allows us to non-invasively measure chemical concentrations in the brain. We do it in vivo with absolutely no harm whatsoever to the patient.

Winning that seed funding got
me involved in some of the
best discussions of my career.

My work involves measuring biochemical concentrations and changes within the brain, all of which we suspect have ramifications for disease. The idea is that the chemistry within an injured tissue is very different from that of normal, healthy tissue. Quantifying these differences with MRS may lead to new diagnostic techniques and better treatments for patients, and so for the past several years, I have been studying MRS to evaluate brain injury, particularly traumatic brain injury (TBI).

How does Harvard Catalyst fit into your research and career?

Overall, my interactions with Harvard Catalyst have been a significant driver of both my research and career. I have been able to expand into new areas of clinical research because of the cascade of events stemming from my Harvard Catalyst Pilot Award, and this has really changed the scope of my career. I was introduced to a diverse group of people who have become my collaborators and they made it possible for me to move my science forward in ways I never would have imagined. Some of the projects we are working on will likely have utility in the clinic and change the way patients are diagnosed and ultimately treated.

A perfect example is the military's urgent need for a better way of distinguishing between traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), since each condition is treated differently. Because of the Pilot Award, I am collaborating with researchers from the Draper Laboratory and the Department of Defense (DOD). We recently secured a $1.2 million DOD grant to see if we can use MRS to diagnostically separate mild TBI from PTSD in soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This is going to be the big study that is going to drive this field forward in terms of research. As a result of my involvement in TBI research, which I owe to the Pilot Award, I am a co-investigator in an NIH-sponsored grant to use MRS to study the effects of repetitive head injury in retired NFL football players in collaboration with Dr. Martha Shenton at BWH and Dr. Robert Stern and his team at the Boston University Center for Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

I have been really pleased with the unexpected contributions these brilliant students have made to my own research.

Harvard Catalyst also offers a variety of programs addressing issues of disparities and diversity that I have chosen to tap into through my research. Because of my work with returning soldiers, I am excited to begin working with Harvard Catalyst's Health Disparities Research Program, a resource intended to promote collaborative research, education, and training opportunities to address health care disparities in certain populations. And for the past two years I have been a mentor to students in the Visiting Research Internship Program and the Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program, two summer internships offered by the Harvard Catalyst Program for Faculty Development and Diversity for medical, graduate, and undergraduate students with diverse backgrounds. I have been really pleased with the unexpected contributions these brilliant students have made to my own research.

I also take advantage of Harvard Catalyst's Grant Central tool to ease communication with my collaborators. This helps tremendously with data sharing and coordinating project materials.

What insights can you offer other researchers?

When I first arrived in Boston three years ago, I had been surprised that people at the university and hospitals were not talking or collaborating as much as they could within such close proximity. Harvard Catalyst is really driving toward opening those doors between different places, to break down research silos. It has been really interesting to see that happen.

Harvard Catalyst offers a bounty of services to help open doors between different institutions and make projects happen efficiently and well.

So my advice to other researchers is: if you get an email from Harvard Catalyst, open it! That is what I did when I first came to BWH and read that first message from Harvard Catalyst inviting me to submit a 1-2 page proposal for a Harvard Catalyst Pilot Award. Winning that seed funding got me involved in some of the best discussions of my career and helped me get through some of the traditional boundaries existing between certain programs and institutions. Even my mentoring experiences within Harvard Catalyst's diversity and disparities programs have contributed meaningfully to my research.

Harvard Catalyst offers a bounty of services to help open doors between different institutions and make projects happen efficiently and well. I would advise anyone to invest just a few minutes and visit the Harvard Catalyst website. You will probably quickly find something of value to you and your research.

Resources Accessed


"I am Harvard Catalyst" is a series of spotlights on clinical/translational investigators, showcasing examples of innovation, collaboration, community engagement, or professional development that have been supported by Harvard Catalyst.