Clinical/Translational Research Opportunities

Resident participation in clinically-oriented translational research is actively encouraged and commonplace across the pathology departments at BWH and MGH. Even for trainees intending to eventually practice pathology in a non-academic setting, we believe that the process of developing a research hypothesis, generating data, writing up findings, and presenting work in a peer-reviewed manuscript is a valuable component of their education and career development. In addition, many studies involve collaborations with physicians in other departments, fostering interdepartmental relationships.

We have a good balance of both clinical workload and being able to explore our own research interests. Our faculty members value our scientific knowledge and they seek out and integrate our input on cases and projects.

- Tyler Miller, MD, PhD

Clinical/translational studies typically use case material from the large archives of the BWH and MGH pathology departments and technologies ranging from immunohistochemistry to multiplexed approaches such as mass spectrometry, tissue imaging, next-generation sequencing, and transcriptional profiling. Immunohistochemical studies, long a mainstay of clinical pathology research, continue to form the backbone of pioneering diagnostic advances made by our pathology departments that have broadly impacted routine pathology practice. We are also fully committed to allowing trainees access to the tools of "translational molecular pathology" - innovative technologies, particularly in the realms of molecular diagnostics and cytogenetics, that permit fundamental investigation of disease mechanisms and pathogenesis and increasingly inform precision diagnosis, sensitive disease detection, and targeted treatment of human disease. Access to annotated databases such as OncDRS and the DFCI cBioPortal, which provide a compendium of treatment outcome results and other clinical data, complement such studies. Additionally, internal and external access to clinical mutation and/or fusion data (e.g., for trial design and/or biomarker development) is organized through a core laboratory at MGH. Funding from a variety of sources, including awards such as the Robbins Fellowship and the Vickery-Colvin Grants, is available to support these types of trainee-driven research studies.

Reflecting our commitment to participation of trainees in research, our residents, fellows and faculty present numerous poster and platform presentations at national and international scientific and clinical meetings, including the yearly United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP), Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists (ACLPS), American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) and Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) meetings, as well as subspecialty-specific meetings. Travel funds are available to support trainees who are presenting a first-author poster or platform talk at a national meeting (see Salary & Benefits). In addition, senior residents and fellows have been presenters and authors in the Case Records of the Massachusetts General Hospital, which are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Physician-Scientist Development

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Pathology Departments have a longstanding tradition of fostering the career development of physician-scientists for leadership positions at the interface of science and medicine. To facilitate a smooth and productive transition from clinical service work to the early stages of a research career, BWH and MGH Pathology make a longitudinal commitment to future physician-scientists that begins during recruitment and extends throughout clinical training into post-doctoral research. During their post-doctoral training, fellows are also able to maintain some clinical activity in order to continue to develop the clinical component of their career.

We have many world-renowned faculty, all of whom are invested and interested in teaching. This also extends to the research side of things, with a wide array of research endeavors and researchers eager for pathology resident expertise.

- Drew Williamson, MD

As part of this commitment, starting early in their first year of clinical training, residents are paired with research mentors who help to guide their thinking about potential areas of research and laboratories within which to pursue it. During clinical training, the Departments strive to allow sufficient time and space for trainees to be able to take advantage of the rich research ecosystem that exists at BWH, MGH, DFCI, and other nearby institutions. Residents doing their clinical work during the AP or CP Core are encouraged to attend the numerous research seminars and symposia that occur within the departments and the local environs.

Clinical trainees are also encouraged to keep up-to-date on the broader research and educational opportunities available through Harvard Medical School, MIT, the combined Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), the Leder Human Biology and Translational Medicine (HBTM) program, and the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation & Technology (CIMIT). Another key resource within our community is Harvard Catalyst (HC), an NIH-CTSA-funded consortium of Harvard University, MIT, Harvard Medical School, and affiliated academic medical centers that supports cross-disciplinary collaboration and provides education and mentoring for clinical and translational researchers.

Through individualized interactions with mentors and exposure to innovative, cutting-edge research, trainees who are motivated to pursue investigation typically have little difficulty in identifying laboratories in which to perform their postdoctoral studies. In addition to laboratories within our own Departments, pathology residents are welcome to pursue research within the larger biomedical research community in Boston, including at the Broad Institute, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering.

American Board of Pathology Physician-Scientist Research Pathway

Any trainee who enters our program can participate in laboratory research during and after their residency training (we do not have a pre-determined number of "slots" for research-oriented applicants). If trainees do plan to engage in focused research following training, they are eligible to receive acknowledgement from the American Board of Pathology indicating that they have trained as a physician-scientist in Pathology upon board certification.

T32 Training Grants

Investigating cellular and molecular mechanisms of human disease, and developing and implementing new approaches to its diagnosis and treatment, are defining features of academic pathology departments. By these criteria, the pathology departments at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) are research intensive indeed! This is apparent in the composition of our faculty and our trainees and the rich biomedical research environments in which our departments are situated. We are proud to support and encourage the next generation of academic pathologists through our training programs.  

A major means of support for physician-scientist trainees in the BWH and MGH pathology departments are our NCI T32 Training Grants, the Oncopathology Training Program at BWH and the Molecular Immunology and Tumor Biology Program at MGH. These postdoctoral research programs train physicians (MD or MD-PhD), who have completed a core residency program in pathology, in the fundamentals of basic research in cancer biology and immunology. We also attract and accept outstanding trainees with other academic backgrounds (e.g., PhDs doing work relevant to experimental pathology). In alignment with the creation of a combined BWH/MGH residency training program experience, we are planning and will begin in Fall 2022 to hold joint “data club” meetings involving the two programs at which trainees from each program will present their work to faculty and trainees from both programs.

Residents entering the joint BWH-MGH pathology residency training experience who are interested in a physician-scientist career pathway will be eligible to join either of the T32 programs listed below.

Oncopathology Training Program (BWH)

The mission of this new program is to train physician scientists in the field of oncopathology, defined broadly as research that seeks to improve our understanding of cancer pathogenesis and pathobiology, and in doing so lead to improvements in cancer diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment. It is specifically designed to benefit the research career development of MD and MD/PhD trainees subsequent to their training in clinical and/or anatomic pathology. Currently there are five post-doctoral training slots per year available for senior pathology residents who want to focus on becoming physician-scientists. The program, led by Dr. Jon Aster, provides up to three years of post-doctoral fellowship salary support as well as stipends for laboratory expenses and travel. One key component of mentoring in this program is a Postdoctoral Advisory Committee comprised of at least one of the program directors (Dr. Aster and Dr. Kathleen Burns), their primary research mentor, and one or more senior cancer researchers with relevant expertise that will review their progress, provide advice and constructive criticism, and serve as a review committee for external fellowship and career development applications. Although this is a new T32 program, it builds on longstanding success at BWH through our prior NHLB1 T32 shepherding trainees through their postdoctoral training to receipt of career development awards and launch of their own labs as independent investigators.

The core faculty includes highly accomplished investigators in the Department of Pathology at BWH as well as at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School who constitute a highly collaborative mentoring community. The expertise of the faculty spans a wide-range of multidisciplinary, oncopathology-relevant areas, including animal modeling of cancer, cancer immunology, cancer genomics, computational pathology and tissue imaging, cancer diagnostics, and translational cancer informatics. Importantly, however, trainees are also allowed to choose mentors who are not members of the core faculty, as long as the focus of the laboratory and PI is on some aspect of cancer research.

Molecular Immunology and Tumor Biology Training Program (MGH)

The MGH T32 has been training young physician scientists for the past 40 years in the fundamentals of basic research in cancer and immunology. Currently there are seven post-doctoral training slots per year available for senior pathology residents who want to focus on becoming physician-scientists. The program, directed by Dr. David Langenau, provides three years of post-doctoral fellowship salary support as well as stipends for laboratory expenses and travel. Equally important the program provides regular mentorship, with monthly T32 group meetings, T32 trainee-specific lecture series, and one-on-one sessions with program leadership to discuss scientific progress and career planning. Program leadership is very active in providing constructive input on grant writing (e.g. K08s), and ensuring a smooth transition to independent funding.

Our research training emphasizes cancer biology and immunology, with a decided emphasis on cancer biology, and includes the use of a variety of molecular techniques to detect, diagnose and treat cancer. The goal is to produce outstanding independent investigators capable of addressing fundamental questions that relate to human disease. Following the completion of the program, trainees will be expected to have acquired the experience and skills necessary to engage in an independent career in cancer or basic immunology research.