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Galit Alter, PhD, really knows how to make a good thing better. A primary investigator at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, she was named the Kristine and Bob Higgins MGH Research Scholar in 2012. In one year, Dr. Alter leveraged the $500,000 award that comes with that honor into three new patents and more than $18 million in additional funding.
The Mass General Research Scholars Program, supported by visionary philanthropists, provides the best and brightest researchers with unrestricted funds to pursue riskier concepts and explore new frontiers in science. Unexpected advancements often result. Traditional funding sources, such as the National Institutes of Health, rarely fund projects without preliminary data.
This flexible funding has given Dr. Alter, an expert in clinical immunology, the academic freedom to advance her work on understanding the immune system’s response to chronic viral infections. Dr. Alter believes the vaccines and gene therapies she is developing will help the body make its own “protective” antibodies to block viral infections such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
Thanks to the proof of concept she developed with the Research Scholar funds, Dr. Alter’s research team has attracted the attention of major funding agencies. In 2013, she was part of a team that received $16.5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and $2.5 million from the NIH.
Dr. Alter says that this additional funding was made possible by the initial $500,000 grant she received through the Research Scholars Program: “The Research Scholar funds have been transformative in accelerating the pace of my research agenda,” she says. “They have allowed me to follow tangents, new lines of thinking and even challenge dogma in science.”