For science, 2020 was a year like no other, as labs around the world shifted their focus to understanding and developing treatments and vaccines against Covid-19. Not surprisingly, research on the novel coronavirus dominates the bracket for this year’s STAT Madness, our annual competition in which readers choose the most important biomedical advance or discovery to emerge from U.S. labs in the past year.
Of the 64 entries selected — from nearly 130 submissions from universities and affiliated research institutions — 15 involve research on Covid. They include characterizing the immune response to the coronavirus; repurposing existing drugs as treatments; understanding why patients’ blood clots; devising tests using CRISPR as well as sewer water; and performing the preclinical work that led to the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is expected to be granted emergency authorization in the U.S. in coming days.
But amid the pandemic, scientists also managed to publish dozens of other important findings in fields such as cancer, neuroscience, heart disease, aging, and other infectious diseases.
In cancer —which accounts for 12 entries — that work includes running a clinical trial of what would be the first treatment targeting “undruggable” KRAS mutations, the most frequent genetic driver of cancer, and demonstrating the use of human brain organoids, lentil-sized laboratory models, to screen drugs against individual patients’ glioblastoma tumors.
Other research involves everything from using artificial intelligence to prompt physicians to have end-of-life conversations with patients and their families, to creating microscopic “machines” from frog cells, to lab experiments that rejuvenated aged human cartilage and muscle cells; to an effort to save northern white rhinos from extinction, by using stem cells created from the last few surviving animals to produce precursors to eggs and sperm — a step toward implanting IVF embryos into surrogate mothers from a closely related rhino species.
STAT Madness — which is modeled on college basketball’s March Madness tournaments — is a bracket-style competition, but one with a not-so-hidden ulterior motive: Scanning through the entries should give readers an appreciation of the ingenuity and breadth of biomedical research being pursued around the U.S. The first of six rounds of popular voting in the single-elimination contest begins Monday, March 1.
The final winner will be announced April 5, with an editor’s pick — based on the originality, rigor, and potential impact of the work — also revealed that day.
You can follow the action on Twitter using the hashtag #STATMadness.
These are the teams selected for STAT Madness 2021. (There are fewer than 64 entries listed because some institutions have two entries.)
Baylor College of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Boston Children’s Hospital
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Duke Clinical Research Institute, Duke University School of Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UCI School of Medicine
Georgia State University
Institute for Systems Biology
Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic
Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
Michigan Medicine Frankel Cardiovascular Center
Scripps Research/San Diego Zoo
Seattle Children’s Research Institute
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Stony Brook University
Texas A&M University
The Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT
The Rockefeller University
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
UC San Diego School of Medicine
UCI School of Medicine
University of California, San Diego
University of California, San Francisco
University of California, Davis
University of Louisville
University of Massachusetts Medical School
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation
University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center
University of Minnesota Medical School
University of Notre Dame
University of Pennsylvania
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
University of Utah Health
University of Washington School of Medicine
University of Washington School of Medicine Institute for Protein Design
University of Wisconsin-Madison
UVA Health/UVA School of Medicine
Weill Cornell Medicine
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering