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I am Harvard Catalyst: Camilia Martin

The Path to Independent Investigator: A neonatologist uses innovative tools and services to build a robust repository and accelerate her career.

Researcher:

Camilia Martin, MD, MS
HMS Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Research Summary:

Dr. Martin studies the impact of nutrition on the development of innate immunity in premature infants and its effect on acute short-term morbidities and long-term outcomes.

Translational Activity:

My previous work in epidemiology did not allow me to identify effective strategies that I could bring to the bedside to improve the way we provide nutrition to premature infants. When I learned about research in another lab on a different population, I began thinking about how it could translate to my work with preterm babies. While the subspecialty of this lab appeared disparate to mine on the surface, we were able to come together, ask novel questions, and yield new insights.

Tell us about yourself and your research interests.

Harvard Catalyst tries to take away some of the randomness of success and make opportunities a little more visible, real, and tangible.

I've been a neonatologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center since 1999. I'm also the Associate Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and have a position in the Division of Translational Research. While working with Alan Leviton at Children's Hospital, using data from large prospective cohort studies, I examined the nutritional intake of premature infants and their neurodevelopment. Through this work, it became evident that we're not very good at providing nutrition to babies so that they achieve optimal growth and neurodevelopment. Over the past two years, I've built a repository of premature infant samples (blood, IV nutritional intake, breast milk, stool, tracheal aspirates). There are over 400 infants characterized in the repository, with daily samples across six weeks of life. Our initial findings revealed that the fatty acid levels in the babies' blood are significantly altered from birth levels soon after delivery in the first postnatal week, impacting their risk of developing lung disease and infection. Now, I'm working in the lab to build an animal model where we can alter fatty acid delivery and look at specific mechanistic pathways by which fatty acids may play a role in health and disease in the premature infant. Our observations in the NICU have driven questions in the lab that, once answered, may affect change at the bedside. To be a clinician and know that perhaps someday we're treating kids differently from the moment they're born in part because of my research - that's pretty exciting!

How does Harvard Catalyst fit into your research and career?

For me, it was career changing to connect with Dr. Steve Freedman, an adult gastroenterologist at BIDMC. He serves as my primary mentor and introduced me to key collaborators and resources through Harvard Catalyst.

One critical resource was the Laboratory for Innovative Translational Technologies (LITT). When I started building the repository I knew I had to consider the downstream testing that would have to come from very small infant samples. The staff at LITT provided expertise in sample integrity and sample analysis and arranged access to technologies and tools we didn't have in the lab. I've learned so much about what you can do with samples, in ways I hope to apply to future research.

I don't think you ever lose the need to be collaborative, but I see myself further along the trajectory towards independent investigator.

A fellowship from Harvard Catalyst's Program for Faculty Development and Diversity Inclusion (PFDDI) allowed me to spend the time I needed to build a research career. I had been dedicating 40 or 50 percent of my time to research, which you just can't do if you're trying to make substantial progress. The PFDDI Fellowship permitted me to dedicate the two years in research, almost full-time; time I needed to move forward my research in a significant way.

The Biostatistics Program and Dr. Jim Ware were also important resources for my project. Dr. Ware looked over the data and confirmed that my statistical approach was correct. He even assigned a graduate student to the project. I didn't have these resources and expertise within my lab and, just like the other support from Harvard Catalyst, I didn't have to pay for these services.

How has Harvard Catalyst impacted your career?

The resources from Harvard Catalyst allowed me to build the repository and leverage support for my project. Now when I start collaborating with others, within or outside of the institution, I'm bringing something of substantial value. My new connections, ideas, and the increased worth of my data since using Harvard Catalyst services have resulted in collaborations that span many institutions and areas of research: Boston Children's Hospital, Forsyth Institute, Texas A&M, University of Chicago, Duke University. I'm entering a phase where grants are coming to me as the principal investigator. I'm starting to drive the questions and have the power to leverage academic and research relationships. I am no longer the person who does the work but gets lost in the shuffle, I'm now somebody who's looked upon as providing substantial intellect and output. I don't think you ever lose the need to be collaborative, but I see myself further along the trajectory towards becoming an independent investigator. Without Harvard Catalyst resources and support, I likely wouldn't have become as prominent in the field of nutrition and neonatology or connected with collaborators across the country over the past two years.

My new connections, ideas, and the increased worth of my data since using Harvard Catalyst services have resulted in collaborations that span many institutions and areas of research.

Coming to the table with productivity, a lab, and data brings me into every discussion in a different way. I am able to speak confidently about my ideas, what I have to offer and why it's important. That's resulted in invitations to speak at many meetings and conferences. I've been invited to be a visiting professor and to write chapters with people who are very established and well-known in neonatology and gastroenterology. It's not as if I'm different than I was before; I still have the same ideas, same work ethic, same interests. However, Harvard Catalyst has given me a foundation from which I can launch and people are taking notice. I now have the backing of an institution and a mentor, which allows me to do my work in the most successful way.

What insights can you offer other researchers?

I now have the backing of an institution and a mentor, which allows me to do my work in the most successful way.

We have many bright people on campus, who don't know how to corral the appropriate resources and people to help them succeed, and I was one of them. My mentor and my experience with Harvard Catalyst changed all of that. Harvard Catalyst tries to take away some of the randomness of success and make opportunities more visible, real, and tangible. Equally important is a dedicated mentor willing to share resources and to work closely with you on cultivating new relationships and guiding your progress. I see a lot of people like me out there, individuals who can succeed with the right supports in place. The junior scientists here deserve to be here and there are tremendous resources on campus. The Harvard Catalyst website is clear about how to look up people, what resources are available, and what pilot funding can get you started. The resources are here and there are people who are very interested in seeing you succeed. It is up to you to seek out those resources, cultivate them, and push hard for what you really want.

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.