The BRIght Futures Prizes support investigators across the BWH Brigham Research Institute (BRI) as they work to answer provocative questions or solve grand problems in medicine. 

The third annual BRIght Futures Prize Competition features three compelling projects - all with the potential to solve vexing medical problems. The finalists, all BWH researchers and clinicians, were selected through a rigorous two-step peer review process. We are excited to introduce the three finalists for the 2014 BRIght Futures Prize. As in previous years, the recipient of the $100,000 2014 BRIght Futures Prize will be decided by public vote.

The 2014 $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize will be presented at the third annual BWH Research Day on Thursday, November 20, 2014. The BRIght Futures Prize generates excitement and visibility for the BRI among the BWH research community as well as external visibility for BWH research and innovation – with patients, donors and the world. Applications were first evaluated on the basis of a BWH strategic and scientific review before the three finalists were selected based on input from a BWH review committee and recommendations from the BRI Research Oversight Committee (ROC).

The 2014 BRIght Futures Finalists are Hadi Shafiee, PhD, Nasim Annabi, PhD and Alexander Lin, PhD. Watch the BRIght Futures Video to hear from each of the finalists and learn more about their research projects.

BRIght Futures Finalist Q&A

Fighting HIV/AIDS - A low-cost, flexible microchip

Hadi Shafiee, PhD, Division of Renal Medicine, BWH Department of Medicine

What is your research project about?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has caused more than 39 million deaths and it is still taking lives of more than 1.5 million people per year. Expanding access to HIV therapy in developing countries has already averted more than 5.5 million AIDS-related deaths. However, some of the major challenges in expanding access to effective therapy, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is early diagnosis and regular treatment monitoring.

Monitoring HIV levels in a person’s blood, known as viral load testing, is the most accurate and preferred method to see whether treatment is working. The majority of HIV viral load testing options available today are expensive, laboratory-based, time-consuming, and complex. Therefore, these tests cannot be used in low- and middle-income countries, and there is currently no commercially available point-of-care HIV viral load device that meets the requirements for these countries.

Our team is working on developing an affordable, simple and rapid diagnostic platform that can detect HIV and measure viral load in infected individuals at the point-of-care.

What is a unique aspect of your research project?

We have invented a technology that enables HIV viral load testing using a finger prick of blood placed on a disposable paper with flexible electrodes. Our microchips can be made using printing technology that is currently available to anyone, even those in low- and middle-income countries. The test is as simple as using a glucose meter and the cost per microchip is only a few pennies. Our viral load device can potentially transmit the test results to a central laboratory or physician through a cell phone. This platform technology is unique with broad applications, and can be adopted to detect multiple infectious diseases such as hepatitis, influenza and herpes.

How will your research project benefit people?

We have developed a weapon that can potentially revolutionize HIV management globally, as it will facilitate rapid, simple and inexpensive early diagnosis of HIV infection and treatment failure for millions of people in urgent need. For example, infants born to HIV-positive mothers will greatly benefit from our technology since viral load testing is the only accurate method of diagnosing HIV infections in infants. Providing immediate treatment for HIV-positive infants has been shown to reduce deaths by 76 percent. Thus, it is essential to diagnose HIV infection rapidly in these infants so that treatment can be given right away. Our disposable microchip can provide rapid diagnostic results at the point-of-care, reducing the current turnaround viral load test time for results from over a week to under an hour. Such a test can lead to immediate initiation of HIV treatment before the mother and infant leave the clinic.

Sticking Together - An Elastic Surgical Glue

Nasim Annabi, PhD, Division of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Medicine

What is your research project about?

There are approximately 114 million surgical and procedure-based wounds that occur annually worldwide, including 36 million from surgeries in the United States. After an operation, wounds are often closed using sutures, staples or surgical meshes. However, there remains a void in surgical sealants that can immediately seal wounds to stop body fluid leakage, such as those that occur with vascular surgeries.  We are developing a stretchy surgical glue and sealant made from a human protein called tropoelastin. We can alter this protein to make a highly elastic and light-activated glue, which can be formed in a few seconds by shining light on it. This glue can be used to seal air and body fluid leakages after surgical procedures.

For example, after removing diseased tissue or a foreign object from the body, a surgeon can apply the glue to seal or reconnect healthy tissues. The glue sticks well to different tissues such as lung and heart tissue, and it moves with the tissues as they continually expand and contract. The glue also is very biocompatible, since it is made of human protein and can naturally break down in the body over time.

What is a unique aspect of your research project?

Our glue is unique because it is elastic and nontoxic; binds strongly to tissue; and works well in wet and highly dynamic environments, such as a beating heart. One the most interesting properties of the sealant are that it is very sticky and stretchy. Therefore, it can help tissues maintain proper movement and function after sealing because it can easily move with the tissues. Also, our sealant provides the advantage of being cured at the wound site, giving the surgeon the ability to place the glue exactly where they want it before curing it with light.

How will your research project benefit people?

Our research will be of great benefit to patients undergoing surgery. The glue can be used in complicated cases, such as with patients suffering from an air leakage after lung surgery, or patients undergoing surgeries that require connecting blood vessels. These surgical procedures are difficult, as current methods such as suturing or stapling are either not possible or extremely challenging and time-consuming. Having a glue that can be applied to the target site easily and quickly can allow for shorter surgical times, leading to less complications and infections.  This glue may one day replace suturing altogether, which is a transformative change in medicine. Additionally, it can be used during minimally invasive surgeries where it can be delivered through a small needle and cured in seconds, thereby reducing operating time and improving outcomes.

Going Head to Head - A Virtual Brain Biopsy

Alexander Lin, PhD, BWH Department of Radiology

What is your research project about?

Football players can suffer many brain injuries throughout a season, including some injuries that they may not even be aware of. While the consequences of traumatic brain injury in contact sports have made media headlines, it is important to note that not everyone who plays sports will have brain damage and dysfunction. There is still a lot that scientists and doctors need to understand about the short- and long-term consequences of brain trauma in athletes.

Our team, in collaboration with Boston University School of Medicine’s CTE Center, is working on a project to develop a virtual biopsy test that tracks chemicals in the brain to better understand how to identify and treat brain injury. It is called a ‘virtual biopsy’ because we can measure certain chemicals in the brain to assess brain damage without having to perform surgery or give radioactive material to a patient.

What is a unique aspect of your research project?

The unique aspect of this project is that it provides a personalized approach to treating brain injury, since injury can affect people in different ways. Using an MRI machine, we can watch in real-time how a person’s brain uses different chemicals. We do this by injecting a safe compound, such as a sugar molecule, and watch as it enters the brain and is converted into other chemicals, such as glutamate. These chemicals are involved in specific processes in the brain, such as inflammation. How these chemicals are processed can provide us with valuable information on the severity of inflammation that may be occurring in the brain. With this information, we can then target these problematic chemical changes with different treatments.

How will your research project benefit people?

Each year there are over 3.8 million people that suffer from brain injuries. They include athletes, such as professional football players, but also soldiers injured in war and children injured while playing sports. Brain injuries can also occur as a result of falls or car accidents. Often, damage to the brain as a result of multiple mild head impacts can lead to a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) with associated memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression, dementia, and, sadly, sometimes suicide.


The test we are developing will help us to find out how to treat problems that arise from brain injuries—problems that may otherwise go undetected until it is too late. By detecting these problems early on, we may be able to stop the damage in the brain before it worsens and severely disrupts a person’s quality of life and independence. If we are successful, this method can also be applied to treating other