Lara Logan speaking at the Magee Prize dinner on Oct. 9, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Photo by Melissa Rayworth.

Update, Oct. 9: The $1 million Magee Prize was awarded tonight to scientists Yaacov Barak, Myriam Hemberger and Henry Sucov to fund their groundbreaking research into the connection between placental abnormalities and congenital heart defects. (See details on the project below.)

Approximately 500 attendees at today’s Magee-Womens Research Summit voted on the awarding of the prize. The other two research projects that made it to the final round of the competition will receive unspecified amounts of seed funding.

Organizers of the inaugural Magee Prize are aiming to hold another competition in approximately two years.

Lives begin and lives are saved every day at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Tomorrow, that work may take a giant leap forward at the inaugural Magee-Womens Research Summit, where the $1 million Magee Prize will be awarded.

The two-day summit, which runs Oct. 9-10 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, will gather leaders in reproductive biology, women’s health, precision medicine, public health and global health advocacy. These scientists, clinicians, policymakers and public health advocates represent developed and developing countries.

UPMC Magee-Womens Research Institute. Photo courtesy of Huss PR.

The prize, to be awarded on Tuesday night, will fund breakthrough research that focuses exclusively on women’s health. Winners will be chosen based on the best proposal for innovative and collaborative research in disciplines including personalized medicine, early human development and gender-based biology.

“Most medical prizes are awarded after a discovery or achievement has been made,” said Carrie Coghill, Magee-Womens Research Institute board chair, in an announcement about the prize. “The Magee Prize was designed to accelerate discovery — by funding a big idea supported by a global, collaborative research team that will deliver the best possible outcome of a high-risk, high-reward medical innovation. This bold initiative has the potential to change the course of women’s health and, in turn, humankind.”

Lara Logan will announce the $1 million Magee Prize at the Magee-Womens Hospital Summit. Getty Images photo courtesy of Huss PR.

Finalists for the prize, which is funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, include projects exploring:

  • Cardiovascular impact of Maternal-Fetal Cell Exchange. In a phenomenon known as microchimerism, fetal cells pass through the placenta and take up residence within the mother’s body. This happens to a greater extent in a woman whose pregnancy is complicated by preeclampsia, which is associated with cardiovascular disease later in life.
  • The Placental Origin of Congenital Heart Defects. Researchers have found that mouse embryos with a particular mutated gene — expressed only in the placenta — suffered fatal defects in both the placenta and the heart. Fixing the gene just in the placenta corrected the heart defect, and researchers have recently found a similar trend among human babies. Heart defects occur in approximately one in 150 live births, but causes are often unknown. If this research solidifies the heart-placenta connection, it could lead to earlier detection, and even prevention and treatment.
  • Editing the Human Germline. In the United States, about 1.3 million people of reproductive age are infertile because they can’t produce viable germline cells — sperm or eggs. Faulty genes are responsible about half of the time. This research into the genes that cause infertility and methods for repairing those genes aims to offer new hope to infertile patients.

The keynote speaker on Tuesday night will be former CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan, a breast cancer and sexual assault survivor. Logan will discuss her experiences and award the Magee Prize, which UPMC says is the largest ever awarded in women’s health.

Wednesday’s summit session will culminate with expert crowdsourcing for ideas on how to move women’s health to the forefront of medical research.

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The...