Winter 2014

Changes Near at Hand

Harris Berman

Photo: Kelvin Ma

Based as we are on an academic calendar, fall always has something of a special feeling to it. Like students all over the country, we return to school with high hopes for whatever the coming year may entail. In effect, we enter a classroom that’s been spruced up and made new.

This year is no different. A series of improvements to the Boston campus should give us a better return on our collective efforts to master the challenges of science and medicine and advance our research. When we make these moves, they reflect a vision. You may recall that it was only a few years ago, in 2009-10, that we rebuilt the Sackler Center from top to bottom to meet the needs of our new curriculum. 

Let’s consider two recent examples. Over the summer, the medical school received permission from the Boston Public Health Commission to open the Arnold 8 Biosafety Laboratory. This is a newly configured research facility that will investigate better ways to detect, prevent and treat tuberculosis. 

For a veteran infectious-disease specialist like me, I’m happy to see our focus in this area. The World Health Organization estimates that TB infects as many as one in three people. As you may know, we have seen a rise in drug-resistant forms of TB in recent years, and contemporary medicine needs to come up with smart new strategies to meet this resurgence.

Our 1,700-square-foot lab is located within the medical school’s Biomedical Research and Public Health Building on Harrison Avenue. Among the leading scientists based in the new space is Bree Aldridge, who will tap her combined skills in microbiology and engineering to uncover the survival strategies of the bacterium that causes TB. The goal is to find faster, simpler, more effective treatments.

That’s one real-world problem we are tackling head-on.

Another facet of our ambition is reflected in our effort to develop therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Along those lines, in July 2013, we struck a three-year deal with AstraZeneca, the global pharmaceutical firm based in Britain, to pursue joint research in neuroscience. Under the terms of the deal, we have assembled a team of neuroscientists, led by Professor Stephen Moss, to partner with AstraZeneca investigators who are exploring neurological pathways involved in brain disease.

Personal relationships were the basis for the AstraZeneca initiative and give us an excellent chance of success. Both Moss and Phil Haydon, chair of our Department of Neuroscience, who will be actively involved in the research, have enjoyed good prior research relationships with the company’s current executives when all of them were in previous positions in Britain. 

Finally, I’d like to end with a brief comment on the new signage that has sprung up around our health sciences campus. The medical school first moved to this downtown Boston location in 1950, reclaiming former factory and warehouse space where we could get it. We have been largely invisible to the general public since then, owing to our lack of prominent signs declaring who we are and the relative shortage of maps showing visitors how to get around on our campus.

That has changed. The campus now has a new system of signs and maps, raising our visibility. I invite you all to swing by the medical school and take note of the difference. 

Harris A. Berman, M.D.

Dean, Tufts University School of Medicine

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