HSCI researchers win university-wide challenge

A new venture based in the lab of HSCI Kidney Program Leader Benjamin Humphreys, MD, PhD, was the grand-prize winner in the inaugural Dean’s Health and Life Science Challenge, which called upon students and postdoctoral fellows across the Harvard community to develop entrepreneurial solutions for global health and life sciences problems.
The researchers received a $40,000 award to seed MatriTarg Laboratories, which is working on the development of new therapies for scar tissue formation, called fibrosis. As chronic disease and aging damage organs, the progressive build up of scar tissue creates new problems for patients, which contribute to as much as forty-five percent of deaths in the industrialized world.
“Fibrosis destroys the liver of a hepatitis C patient, the heart of a patient with high blood pressure, the kidney of a diabetes patient, and the lung of a patient with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” said postdoctoral research fellow Rafael Kramann, MD. Kramann, Humphreys, and postdoctoral research fellow Derek DiRocco, PhD, are the three co-founders of MatriTarg.
Despite the medical toll of tissue fibrosis, no effective therapies are approved in the United States—an innovation gap MatriTarg aims to close by identifying changes in the myofibroblast, the cell type primarily responsible for causing fibrosis, and identify new therapeutic targets.
The Humphreys Laboratory, where Kramann and DiRocco developed their understanding of kidney injury, repair, and fibrosis previous to starting their venture, is supported by an HSCI grant. The postdoctoral research fellows are also active members of the HSCI community, and participate in junior group meetings on a regular basis. “We feel that these meetings are very helpful as we can discuss our experiments and thoughts with other researchers from the HSCI,” Kramann said.
HSCI partnered with the Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School to include Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine as one of the four focus categories in the Dean’s Health and Life Science Challenge, making the MatriTarg team’s eligibility a possibility. Other categories included the Redesign of Health Delivery, Changing Behavior, and Computation and Data Analysis in Health.
As grand-prize winners, the MatriTarg team is eligible to continue their residency at the Harvard Innovation Lab, which hosted the challenge. The researchers will have access to dedicated workspace, mentoring, and access to expert resources throughout the summer.