December 18, 2016

Inbox [Dec. 18]: UMass Medical gets $3.1M for heart study, WorcShop shares in $242K in state grants, WPI researchers make cancer breakthrough, Health Connector deadline looms

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Sean M. Haley/For Worcester Sun

Randal Gardner, WorcShop co-founder and co-owner of Eternity Iron Works.

Interesting and worthwhile things happen every day in our community. Alas, we can’t cover them all. That’s where Inbox comes in, to offer readers an easily digestible compilation of interesting and noteworthy items you and your neighbors keep telling us about.

UMass Medical School awarded $3.1M to monitor, improve heart attack care in Worcester

UMass Medical School has been awarded a four-year, $3.1 million grant by the National Institutes of Health for Community Surveillance of Coronary Heart Disease. The new grant, previously known as the Worcester Heart Attack Study, continues four decades of monitoring local heart attack patients to improve treatment and outcomes under the direction of Robert Goldberg, Ph.D., founder and principal investigator.

“We’re going to study contemporary trends in the magnitude of heart disease in the greater Worcester community. We’re going to monitor changing and current trends in the in-hospital and long-term outcomes of patients hospitalized with heart attacks, also called acute myocardial infarctions. And we’re going to look at changes taking place in patient management,” said Goldberg, professor of quantitative health sciences.

UMass Medical School

Wikimedia Commons/Photo by og-emmet

UMass Medical School

“What we want to learn is, will these trajectories continue: Will [the] incidence of heart attacks continue to decrease? Will patients’ prognosis continue to improve? And how much more effectively can patients be managed?”

Funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute since the mid-1980s, the community-based study provides 40 years of data about the number of heart attacks among residents of the greater Worcester community and outcomes of their medical care during and after hospitalization. It also provides insights on how patients who experience heart attacks are treated by physicians in the community.

“We’re going to have a 40-year picture of heart disease, which is unique. What we’ve learned since 1975 is that even though Worcester heart attack patients have become older and sicker, often having multiple diseases, the incidence of heart attacks is declining, and patients’ [prognoses] both in-hospital and post-discharge is getting better,” said Goldberg. “We think this is because patients are being much more aggressively managed with evidence-based care.”

Read the entire story on the UMass Medical School website

State announces inaugural round of Collaborative Workspace Program Awards

At an event last Thursday at The WorcShop in Worcester, the Baker-Polito Administration awarded over $950,000 in grant funding to 23 organizations across Massachusetts to strengthen community-based innovation and entrepreneurship in the commonwealth’s cities and towns.

The awards will build physical infrastructure to support the growth of new entrepreneurial ventures, while spurring innovation and job creation at the local level.

Six Central Mass. organizations, including four in Worcester, were given awards totalling $242,000.

Work bays at the WorcShop, 243 Stafford St.

Jessica White / courtesy WorcShop

Work bays at the WorcShop, 243 Stafford St.

The WorcShop, a facility that combines studio and industrial shop space, was awarded $100,000 to make critical improvements to its facility that will deepen the organization’s capacity to support art, innovation and creativity.

Check out our free-to-read Local Business Spotlight on The WorcShop

The Mass. Digital Games Institute at Becker College will use $50,000 in grant funding to support the development of the New Ventures Center, a new, publicly facing incubator lab for Becker students and community entrepreneurs working in interactive media and digital game development, by financing the purchase of a state-of-the-art core computing network.

The Launchspace plans to take up residence in the Orange (Mass.) Innovation Center, repurposing a currently underutilized industrial space, and advancing industrial entrepreneurship in the North Quabbin region. Its $25,000 grant will support predevelopment planning. The Baker-Polito previously supported the Orange Innovation Center with a $200,000 MassWorks award in 2016, to upgrade public infrastructure so the center could expand to meet growing demand.

Collaborative Workspace Funding of $23,500 will advance the redevelopment of the historic Printers Building in Worcester by supporting the expansion of the Worcester Clean Tech Incubator.

The Creative Hub Worcester will use $23,500 in grant funding to accelerate the development of this new visual arts makerspace by funding a portion of the project’s pre-development design and planning costs.

The Greater Gardner Business Incubator will use its $20,000 grant to grow jobs in north central Massachusetts, and advance the redevelopment of downtown Gardner, by launching a new, immersive business incubator and coworking space.

“Our administration is partnering with every region in the Commonwealth to create new jobs, by tapping into the deep innovative and entrepreneurial spirit present in all of our communities,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “The collaborative workspaces funded here today will unlock potential across Massachusetts by increasing the capacity of local organizations to become centers of creativity and innovation in their communities.”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

“These targeted investments will give residents in every region access to the tools and expertise they need to launch new businesses, and contribute to their local innovation ecosystems,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. “By investing in innovative workspaces, these grants will empower communities of every size and shape to participate in our state’s unrivaled innovation economy, and generate new growth from within their own borders.”

“The Collaborative Workspace Grants being awarded today will help foster innovation and community based entrepreneurship in Central Massachusetts and across the Commonwealth,” said state Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury. “This funding will strengthen key strategies aimed at ensuring the health of our economy going forward.”

“These are the types of programs it is great to see the Commonwealth investing in: collaborative workspaces which encourage entrepreneurship and give back to local communities throughout the state, keeping creative energy alive in our communities,” said state Rep. Kate Campanale, R-Leicester.

Read the entire story on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website

WPI researchers build ‘Liquid Biopsy’ chip that detects metastatic cancer cells in a drop of blood

A chip developed by mechanical engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute can trap and identify metastatic cancer cells in a small amount of blood drawn from a cancer patient. The breakthrough technology uses a simple mechanical method that has been shown to be more effective in trapping cancer cells than the microfluidic approach employed in many existing devices.

The WPI device uses antibodies attached to an array of carbon nanotubes at the bottom of a tiny well. Cancer cells settle to the bottom of the well, where they selectively bind to the antibodies based on their surface markers (unlike other devices, the chip can also trap tiny structures called exosomes produced by cancers cells). This “liquid biopsy,” described in a recent issue of the journal Nanotechnology, could become the basis of a simple lab test that could quickly detect early signs of metastasis and help physicians select treatments targeted at the specific cancer cells identified.

Metastasis is the process by which a cancer can spread from one organ to other parts of the body, typically by entering the bloodstream. Different types of tumors show a preference for specific organs and tissues; circulating breast cancer cells, for example, are likely to take root in bones, lungs, and the brain. The prognosis for metastatic cancer (also called stage IV cancer) is generally poor, so a technique that could detect these circulating tumor cells before they have a chance to form new colonies of tumors at distant sites could greatly increase a patient’s survival odds.

“The focus on capturing circulating tumor cells is quite new,” said Balaji Panchapakesan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at WPI and director of the Small Systems Laboratory. “It is a very difficult challenge, not unlike looking for a needle in a haystack. There are billions of red blood cells, tens of thousands of white blood cells, and, perhaps, only a small number of tumor cells floating among them. We’ve shown how those cells can be captured with high precision.”

The device developed by Panchapakesan’s team includes an array of tiny elements, each about a tenth of an inch (3 millimeters) across. Each element has a well, at the bottom of which are antibodies attached to carbon nanotubes. Each well holds a specific antibody that will bind selectively to one type of cancer cell type, based on genetic markers on its surface. By seeding elements with an assortment of antibodies, the device could be set up to capture several different cancer cells types using a single blood sample. In the lab, the researchers were able to fill a total of 170 wells using just under 0.3 fluid ounces (0.85 milliliter) of blood. Even with that small sample, they captured between one and a thousand cells per device, with a capture efficiency of between 62 percent and 100 percent.

Read the entire story on the WPI website

Health Connector enrollment deadline Friday for January plans

With the Friday, Dec. 23, deadline approaching for plans starting Jan. 1, more than 28,000 current Massachusetts Health Connector members have picked a new plan and more than 24,000 new applicants have lined up coverage for the new year.


Open Enrollment started Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, but the Dec. 23 deadline is the most important of the year. For people – both current members and new applicants – who want new coverage for 2017, the deadline to pick a plan and pay for it is just days away. The federal deadline is Dec. 15, but Massachusetts residents, under state rules, have additional time to complete their enrollment.

“We are pleased to see so many people, take the time to ‘stop, shop, enroll’ early in Open Enrollment and get into the best plan for their needs for 2017,” said executive director of Massachusetts Health Connector Louis Gutierrez. “The deadline is Dec. 23 to get coverage for the new year, which is important for both members who want a different plan next year, and for those who do not have insurance right now.”

Members have been active during Open Enrollment, with more than 20,054 people as of Dec. 7 having paid for a new plan, and an additional 7,927 having picked a new plan in advance of the Dec. 23 payment deadline.

More information is available on the Mass. Health Connector website

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