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Thanks to the work of Mount Kisco, New York, native David Berry, stroke victims may in the not-too-distant future have a better chance of recovering without severe loss of brain tissue. The inventor accomplished this and other discoveries while still a student in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, en route to earning his M.D. and Ph.D.
As a child, Berry, born in 1978, had dreamed of becoming a superhero, envisioning a life dedicated to helping others and fighting evil. He also enjoyed tinkering with objects, conducting experiments, and figuring out how things worked. By the time he'd reached his teenage years, he'd chosen a career path that would allow him to combine his interests and achieve his goals: medical science.
Berry entered MIT in 1996 and earned an S.B. in brain and cognitive sciences in 2000 followed by a Ph.D. in biological engineering in 2005. Also enrolled with Harvard-MIT's HST program, he is slated to complete his M.D. in 2006. As part of his doctoral work, Berry began studying heparin, a common anticoagulant, and a protein called fibroblast growth factor (FGF2), which is involved in the formation of new blood vessels.
Berry became interested in the possibility of using FGF2 to help doctors treat stroke victims that would help their recovery chances, given that it is often difficult to know when an individual is suffering a stroke, and that the window for treatment is generally very short - and very critical. Data from the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, states that a person suffers a stroke somewhere in the U.S. every 45 seconds, meaning about 700,000 Americans suffer strokes each year. Yet, only one FDA-approved drug had been available, and it is necessary that the patient get it within three hours of the stroke for the treatment to be effective.
While working with his advisor, MIT Professor Ram Sasisekharan, Berry and his colleagues developed a new protein, dimeric FGF2 (dFGF2), to synthesize a more effective drug for stroke victims. If given within 24 hours of a stroke, dFGF2 can limit the amount of brain tissue that is damaged. If given after 24 hours, it can substantially improve the patient's rate of functional recovery, which current treatment does not. It can be given in small doses, to help reduce side effects of stroke such as extreme weight loss. DFGF2 has gone through pre-clinical trials and a safety trial is expected to commence soon.
Remarkably, Berry conceived of and developed dFGF2 within just six months of setting to work on the project. The time frame was exceptionally short, also for the fact that the product was quickly patented and licensed, and moved toward commercialization. He was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for this discovery in 2005.
Meanwhile, Berry was inspired by his observations of how heparin interacts with other compounds, and he began working on possible applications for the treatment of cancer. One of these projects involves a way to stop cancer cells from spreading and to remove cells that may have been missed during surgery. Berry has described the technique as a "cancer Band-Aid." He has also begun energy-related research, looking at ways sugar biology and bacteria might be used to develop inexpensive hydrogen gas.