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March 8, 2023

All 3 UVA Contenders Advance in Hunt for Biggest Biomedical Discovery 

The STAT Madness logo

The people have spoken! All three of UVA Health’s contenders for the biggest biomedical advance of 2022 have advanced to the second round of the STAT Madness bracket tournament.

STAT Madness is the scientific version of the NCAA basketball tournament. It lets the public vote for the most significant biomedical discovery of last year, with the goal of increasing awareness of biomedical research and its impact. Cast your ballot here.

Here are UVA’s three contenders, all from the School of Medicine:

FIGHTING ALZHEIMER'S: UVA neuroscience researchers led by John Lukens, PhD, discovered a molecule in the brain responsible for orchestrating the immune system’s 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 to be 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 helps 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 or other factors. When this happens, the ailing microbiome reprograms important immune cells in healthy breast tissue, called mast cells, to facilitate cancer’s spread, found researchers led by UVA’s Melanie R. Rutkowski, PhD. 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 many men age causes the heart muscle to scar and can lead to deadly heart failure, new research from UVA’s Kenneth Walsh, PhD, 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.

With the advancement of both the Alzheimer’s and breast cancer discoveries, UVA is guaranteed at least one place in the STAT Madness Sweet 16, as those two findings are going head-to-head in the latest matchups. The winner will move on to the next round.

As the tournament progresses, Hoo faithful should make sure to return each day to cast their vote. If you haven’t, bookmark that bracket – it’s at  And to keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog.

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