What does great biomedical science look like? Is it an advance in cancer therapy? A device that helps people recover from injury faster? Or, is it an inexpensive tool that gives developing nations a chance to fight crippling disease?
Great bioscience looks like all of this, and those examples are among the nearly 150 entries you sent us for STAT Madness, our yearly contest to find the next best innovations in health and medicine.
On Wednesday, after several weeks of voting, we entered our final round. The institutions still in the mix — East Carolina University and Children’s National Health System — are looking at ways to rescue heart cells and ways to use artificial intelligence to help doctors diagnose genetic disease in children.
Later this week, we’ll be hosting a final chat on social media so you can learn more about the two research projects. We’ll announce them as they are scheduled on our Twitter, Facebook (FB), and LinkedIn accounts.
STAT Madness started as a single-elimination bracket of 64 entries that will give us a crowd-voted favorite on Friday. (Click here for last year’s winner; click here for this year’s contest) And in the meantime, a team of STAT journalists has gone through the submissions to find the discovery we think will have the most impact in the years to come. We’ll announce that on Monday morning.
If this sounds a little rah-rah to you, well, you’re right. STAT Madness is fundamentally a celebration of science. It’s also a reminder: Tackling disease starts with small advances, often supported with federal funding. That research leads to the patents and startups that drive parts of our economy, and fuel the clinical trials that we hope will lead to new treatments, if not cures.
So, here’s to test tubes and T cells, and here’s a little more about this year’s pool of 64.
It takes discipline(s)
The entries in STAT Madness fall into many fields of biomedicine. We have straight genetics — finding gene variations that correlate, if not cause, disease. We have computational biology, challenging the dogma of the primordial soup. We have robotics aiding rehabilitation, and nanoparticles, getting drugs to closed off places in our bodies. We have tons of CRISPR, because CRISPR. And, finally, we have translation — from reprogramming our immune systems to fight cancer all the way to how we train doctors to make decisions under the extreme duress of the ER.
It takes teamwork
Few of our entries come from teams entirely housed under one academic roof. We have bitter rivals on the playing field working together in the lab on stem cell treatments for lung disease. We have a research institution paired with a university to explore a simple solution to eye disease, and a major advocacy group teaming up with a nearby medical center to better understand the patterns of colon cancer.
It takes women (and minorities and immigrants)
We’re still counting, but at first glance, few, if any, of our entries are teams of all men. The women in STAT Madness are the lead authors, the lead investigators, the students, the postdocs, the technicians, and the clinicians asking the questions and guiding the work. Our entries are fueled by researchers who come from lots of countries, and some who are underrepresented minorities. We have one team of mostly female engineers tackling a problem in cervical cancer, multiple teams looking at aspects of breast cancer, one team looking at models for pre-eclampsia, and a team that is creating 3-D printed female organs. Then, of course, there are the patients — the people who participated in surveys and trials who are women.
It takes tax dollars
Whether studies in brain stimulation, results from a cancer immunotherapy trial, or CRISPR’ing our food supply, this year’s pool of innovations are funded publicly in one way or another. And it’s not just federal dollars — for some of our entries, state funding has played a huge role in either the creation of the infrastructure needed to carry out scientific research, or in the support of individual researchers doing the work.
It takes honesty
Conflict of interest is a serious issue in biomedicine, and it’s rarely ever cut and dry. We thank the teams who spelled out those possibilities upfront, whether through payments or funding from pharma, ownership in companies that might benefit from results, or through work they might do as consultants for industry. We decided not to rule any one entry out because of possible conflicts, and hope that as you read the entries and vote over the next few weeks, you’ll decide on your own what weight you’ll give to the issue. As for the editor’s pick, any potential conflicts will be part of our deliberation.
And, last, but not least, here are the teams competing in STAT Madness 2018. Watch the competition unfold on social media via #statmadness2018.
American Cancer Society
Baylor College of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Boston University School of Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering
Children’s National Health System
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
East Carolina University
Emory University School of Medicine
Colorado State University
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University
George Mason University
Georgia State University
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT
MGH/Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
Michigan Medicine/University of Michigan
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Mount Sinai Health System
North Carolina State University
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
NYU College of Dentistry
Oregon Health & Science University
Stony Brook University
Texas A&M College of Medicine
Texas A&M College of Pharmacy
The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
The Jackson Laboratory
The Ohio State University
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
UC San Diego School of Medicine
UNC School of Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
University of Notre Dame
University of Pennsylvania
University of Rochester Medical Center
University of Texas Medical Branch
University of Utah
UPMC/University of Pittsburgh
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Weill Cornell Medicine
Western University of Health Sciences
Wyss Institute at Harvard University
Yale School of Medicine
This story has been updated to reflect the current status of the contest.