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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

Broad Institute

Duke Clinical Research Institute, Duke University School of Medicine

Duke University

Emory University School of Medicine

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UCI School of Medicine

Georgia State University

Gladstone Institutes

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

Stanford University

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

Tufts University

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