June 14, 2022 – Alexander Banks, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, is the 2022 recipient of the Armen H. Tashjian Jr. Award for Excellence in Endocrine Research. The award recognizes his progress in standardizing data analysis for obesity research.
During an awards ceremony and seminar on May 19, 2022 at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Banks shared his work to address a long-standing challenge in the study of body mass and metabolism, or energy use – a simplistic and inconsistent data analysis. “This has plagued the field of obesity and metabolism research, where people have these prior notions of what should happen to metabolism and will adjust their data appropriately to try to achieve that,” he said. he declares. “It’s creating what some have called a reproducibility crisis.”
Over time, the field of obesity and metabolism research has evolved toward more precise but increasingly complex data analysis, according to Banks. To simplify and standardize the process, he developed a web-based tool to make it easier to view data, perform calculations, and share results. Because the tool now allows researchers from all fields to easily compare results, they can more easily investigate global questions about the genetic, environmental and pharmacological factors that affect obesity.
“What used to take me about eight hours — and I had to go through manual curating — you can really get under 10 minutes,” Banks said. “Today, more than 35,000 experiments have been conducted using this program, which shocks me. I had no idea that so many people had the exact same problem as me.
“The award committee unanimously selected Dr. Banks as this year’s recipient because of his high standards…and the impact of his research,” said Brendan Manning, professor of molecular metabolism and acting chair of the Department of Molecular Metabolism.
The award honors the late Armen Tashjian Jr., who was Emeritus Professor of Toxicology in the Department of Molecular Metabolism. He headed the Harvard Chan School’s toxicology program for nearly three decades. The annual award recognizes promising young faculty and fellows who pursue innovative research in the basic biomedical sciences relevant to endocrinology.
Banks said he has worked with or known all of the winners to date. “They are all super nice people, wonderful collaborators, in addition to being superb scientists,” he said. “I feel like that’s the legacy of this award. I feel extremely honored to be part of this group.
Photos: Kent Dayton