Update: This article was updated on March 28, 2022.
The Super Bowl has been played and the Olympics are over, but there’s another competition on the horizon—and in this one, your participation can make a difference!
STAT Madness is an annual bracket-style competition to identify the most exciting innovations in science and medicine. Institutions from across the country submit examples of their work, and the top 64 discoveries are matched in head-to-head competitions, vying for the popular vote.
The first is an entirely new approach to treat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The second is a new way to treat the side effects of traumatic brain injury. And the third is a repurposed drug already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that could reverse signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
First up (and a paper that made it to the fourth round of the competition), the discovery of a new class of antiviral therapy that could be used to treat COVID-19. Weinberger has been working for 20 years on an antiviral approach using therapeutic interfering particles (TIPs). Unlike traditional vaccines that teach the immune system to recognize and respond to viruses, TIPs hijack virus-infected cells and turn them into therapy-producing factories.
In this study, Weinberger along with Sonali Chaturvedi, PhD, their team, and colleagues at VxBiosciences Inc. designed a TIP to interfere with SARS-CoV-2. Treatment with the TIP dramatically reduced viral levels in animals infected with SARS-CoV-2, and prevented them from becoming seriously ill. Importantly, the scientists anticipate that it will be very difficult for viruses to evolve resistance to TIPs, so they should remain effective even as new variants arise.
The group is rapidly moving TIPs for SARS-CoV-2 to clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Defense.
Gladstone’s second entry is an advance that could lead to a new approach to prevent the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injury. People who survive traumatic brain injury can develop secondary complications that last the rest of their lives, such as seizures, sleep disruption, and cognitive deficits.
Paz and her colleagues discovered that in an inner brain region, the thalamus, increased levels of a molecule called C1q might be partly responsible for these deficits. Remarkably, the scientists showed that targeting C1q with an antibody produced by Annexon Biosciences could prevent the development of secondary complications.
The team hopes that therapies based on this discovery could help improve the lives of the 69 million people around the world affected by traumatic brain injury each year.
Gladstone’s final STAT Madness entry is a breakthrough in the search for new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Huang and his team screened a database of FDA-approved drugs to find those that might be able to help Alzheimer’s disease patients. This novel approach identified bumetanide—a drug that has been used for many years to treat hypertension and heart failure—as a likely contender.
Indeed, their study showed that the drug reversed signs of Alzheimer’s disease in mice, as well as in human brain cells. Because bumetanide already has a long track record of safe use, the scientists hope that it could move quickly to clinical trials to determine its potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
You can visit the STAT website and follow #STATMadness to tune in, read the entries, and vote for your favorites. This is a great opportunity to help support not only the great work being done at Gladstone, but the overall importance of scientific innovation.