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Your vote needed! Hutch science competes in 'STAT Madness'

Studies by Drs. Justin Taylor, Robert Bradley are finalists in annual competition for best biomedical advance

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 27 to reflect the latest bracket results.

Forget basketball. The hottest bracket-style contest this March is between research institutions. And Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center needs your help to win.

STAT Madness, operated by the biomedical news outlet STAT, is a friendly annual competition to crown the best research advance of 2019 from an academic institution. In the style of March Madness, institutions are placed in brackets and go head-to-head in six single-elimination rounds to win votes from the public.

Two Hutch projects have been featured in the competition. The round five bracket features Fred Hutch science vying in the semifinals against a Texas Heart Institute study on restoring heart function after heart attack. The second Hutch project was eliminated in round three.

To vote, click on Fred Hutch’s logo where it appears on the bracket. Then, click the checkmark over our logo in the matchup description. 

Yes, you can vote more than once: In fact, the bracket will let you vote once every several hours — so keep that tab open in your browser and keep clicking. The fifth round of voting is open until Tuesday, March 31 at 8:59 p.m. Pacific.

You can also help get the word out on social media — be sure to use the #STATMadness hashtag. Also check out Fred Hutch's posts in a March 25 Tweet chat about the research.

The popular-vote champion, and the STAT editors’ pick, will be announced April 6. Winners are covered with stories in STAT.

Read on for more information about the two Fred Hutch studies in STAT Madness 2020: a project led by Dr. Justin Taylor of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division — now competing in round five — and one co-led by Dr. Robert Bradley of Fred Hutch’s Basic Sciences and Public Health Sciences divisions, which was eliminated in round three.

Engineering vaccine-like protection without a vaccine

graphic illustration of a man in white lab coat looking into a microscope, where he sees antibodies
The goal of nearly every successful vaccine is to coax B cells into making swarms of antibodies to block a specific microbial threat. Yet the process does not always work as well as doctors would like. In a new approach, scientists at Fred Hutch efficiently engineered B cells to make antibodies against specific diseases, working much like a vaccine. Illustration by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

The Taylor Lab’s work was published last May in the journal Science Immunology. The team showed B cells — a type of blood cell critical to the immune system — can be efficiently engineered to make specialized immune proteins called antibodies against specific diseases, a potentially more precise and dependable way to generate protection without vaccines.

“What we really want to create is something where we take your B cells, engineer them to make the antibody you need, put them back in the body, and you are good for life,” Taylor told Fred Hutch News Service at the time of the study’s publication. “No vaccine required. We’ll just cut out the middleman.”

How a common cancer mutation drives cancer — and how to correct it  

graphic animation of a conveyor belt with DNA that passes through several machines to be processed into RNA. Sometimes, one of the machines breaks and makes faulty RNA, which is removed from the conveyor belt.
A broken machine on a factory assembly line leads to defective widgets that must be weeded out. Researchers at Fred Hutch and their collaborators mapped out a similar process in cancer, caused by a mutation in the cell’s molecular machinery for processing DNA instructions into proteins. In the lab, a strategy they developed for compensating for the broken machine stopped tumor growth in its tracks. Graphic by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

The Bradley Lab’s work was published last October in the journal Nature. Bradley’s team and its collaborators used a high-throughput CRISPR screening approach and computational wizardry to learn how a commonly mutated gene in cancer drives tumor growth. Then, they created a custom-designed molecular repair kit to correct the key mechanism they identified, shrinking tumors in mice.

“Even for very well-studied mutations, it’s frequently not obvious what the specific underlying processes are that promote cancer growth,” Bradley told Fred Hutch News Service when the study was published. “When we understand how to map a mutation to the development of cancer, then we can start to think about how to block that process for therapy.”    

‘Ingenuity and breadth’ of U.S. research

Fred Hutch’s fellow competitors comprise institutions in 18 states plus the District of Columbia, including the Hutch’s Seattle neighbors at the University of Washington and the UW Institute for Protein Design. The research in the competition includes such advances as tooth-cleaning nanorobots and gene therapy for severe combined immunodeficiency, aka “Bubble boy disease.”

The 64 research advances in the competition were culled from 128 entrants “based on the scientific rigor of their research, the originality and novelty of the work, and its potential beneficial impact in its respective field or for patients and society,” STAT wrote in in its announcement of the finalists.

“STAT Madness is a 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 outlet wrote.

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Susan Keown is an associate editor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She has written about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reach her at skeown@fredhutch.org or on Twitter @sejkeown.

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Last Modified, March 27, 2020