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Three UVA Health Discoveries Up for Biggest Biomedical Advance of 2022


March 2, 2023


Josh Barney/UVA Health

Not one but three UVA Health discoveries are competing for the title of 2022’s biggest biomedical advance as part of the STAT health news website’s annual “STAT Madness” bracket tournament.

It’s the fifth consecutive year that a UVA Health discovery has been recognized as one of the year’s most significant.

STAT Madness is like the scientific version of the NCAA basketball tournament. Voting is open to the public. New rounds will open weekly, with the week’s winners advancing until a final victor is determined. You may vote once per day.

UVA occupies three of the 64 slots in this year’s tournament. Here are the three UVA contenders, all of which come from UVA’s School of Medicine:

Fighting Alzheimer’s: UVA neuroscience researchers led by John Lukens discovered a molecule in the brain responsible for orchestrating immune system responses to Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, potentially allowing doctors to supercharge the body’s ability to fight those and other devasting neurological diseases.

The molecule directs immune cells called microglia to remove plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s and prevent the debris buildup that causes MS. The findings could let doctors augment the activity of microglia to treat or protect patients from the toxic buildup thought responsible for memory loss and impaired motor control in neurodegenerative diseases.

Halting breast cancer’s spread: An unhealthy gut triggers changes in normal breast tissue that help breast cancer spread to other parts of the body, research from UVA Cancer Center revealed. The gut microbiome – the microbes that naturally live inside us – can be disrupted by poor diet, long-term antibiotic use, obesity and other factors. When this happens, the ailing microbiome reprograms important immune cells in healthy breast tissue, called mast cells, to facilitate cancer’s spread. It was discovered by researchers led by UVA’s Melanie R. Rutkowski. The finding could help scientists develop ways to keep breast cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.

Preventing heart failure: The loss of the male sex chromosome as some men age causes the heart muscle to scar and can lead to deadly heart failure, new research from UVA’s Kenneth Walsh and collaborators revealed. The finding may help explain why men die, on average, several years younger than women. The new discovery suggests that men who suffer Y chromosome loss – estimated to include 40% of 70-year-olds – may particularly benefit from an existing drug that targets dangerous tissue scarring.

As the STAT Madness tournament progresses, the Hoo faithful should remember to return each day to cast their votes.