Two NYU studies face off at STAT Madness

The science competition will feature two NYU studies competing against each other in the bracket-style tournament.


Aaliya Luthra

The competition features 64 research teams. The winner will be announced on April 4. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Nikki Mirala, Staff Writer

Put down the basketball and pick up a beaker — it’s time for STAT Madness. This year, two NYU research studies focusing on gum disease and cancer, respectively, have been entered into the annual competition.

Inspired by March Madness, STAT is a bracket-style tournament in which the public can vote on the most innovative scientific and medical breakthroughs. The tournament, hosted by the science-focused news publication STAT News, chooses 64 research teams representing various institutions to compete in each round of voting. Voting for the first round began on March 1 and the final round will end on April 3. The winner will be announced the following day.

The first study, conducted by researchers including Xin Li and Deepak Saxena from NYU’s College of Dentistry, centers on the development of an oral gel to treat gum disease by suppressing gum inflammation and reducing bacteria in the mouth. Li said that the study should win at the competition because of its relevance to the public and its merit as a “groundbreaking study.”

“Despite that the treatments are often inconvenient or ineffective, there have been limited advances in the treatment of periodontal disease over the last 40 years,” Li said. “The mechanism is useful for understanding other inflammatory diseases.”

The second team of researchers developed a genetic screening platform which they used to identify genes that strengthen T cells — important immune cells — turning them into more effective cancer fighters. Researchers from NYU’s biology department, the Grossman School of Medicine and the New York Genome Center carried out the study.

Mat Legut, a fellow at NYGC and an author of the study, said the research team decided to focus on discovering new gene therapies because many current treatments do not result in long-lasting cancer remission.

“Over the last decade, we have seen a tremendous potential of cell therapies to treat, or even in some cases, eradicate certain cancers,” Legut said. “We have also seen these types of therapies fall short of delivering clinical benefit to patients with solid tumors — 95% of cancers.”

The researchers analyzed the effects of more than 12,000 genes in various T cells from human donors. They found synthetic gene programs that dramatically reorganize the cells, increasing their efficiency in detecting and combating cancer cells.

Legut added that the new technology could substantially increase resources for the cell therapy for cancer and other medical treatments for immune system biology. Despite his excitement about the study’s selection, Legut stressed the importance of the research itself.

“At the end of the day, what matters decidedly more is how our study is going to be helpful to the scientific community and how we can take this technology and results further to positively impact patients’ lives,” Legut said.

Contact Nikki Mirala at [email protected]