Four studies—from creating artificial cell-like structures to COVID-19 modeling—were chosen for the bracket-style competition of the year’s most innovative science and medicine research

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[Update 3/22/22 - Stefano Sacanna's research on artificial cell-like structures has advanced to the fourth round of the competition.]

Four NYU research teams have been chosen to compete in STAT Madness 2022, a virtual tournament of the best innovations in health and science inspired by college basketball’s March Madness. Cast your vote for your favorite research in the bracketed competition starting on Tuesday, March 1.

The NYU studies—four of the 64 selected by STAT News for the competition—highlight research on COVID-19, as well as breakthroughs from laboratories working to combat antibiotic resistance and take a step closer to creating artificial cells.

NYU School of Global Public Health’s Agent Based Modeling Laboratory, led by Joshua Epstein, developed a new mathematical model explaining the long-standing mystery of multiple pandemic waves, and helping to prevent them. By including the neuroscience of contagious fear, the authors reveal cognitive mechanisms driving the cycles of epidemic suppression and resurgence seen in the great pandemics from the 1918 flu to smallpox to COVID-19. The "Triple Contagion" model for the first time couples the transmission of fears (of disease and of vaccine) with the transmission of virus, illustrating how their entanglement shapes the pandemic’s trajectory—in turn suggesting how new approaches to the communication of risk can mitigate pandemic spread and save lives.

Research led by NYU Meyers’ Christine Kovner and Nancy Van Devanter explored how working on the frontlines during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our largest health care workforce: nurses. Their mixed-methods study found that New York City nurses experienced anxiety, depression, and illness—but steps their hospitals took to protect them and support from their coworkers helped buffer against the stressful conditions.

Chemistry professor Stefano Sacanna and colleagues developed artificial cell-like structures that can ingest, process, and expel material—recreating active transport, an essential function of living cells. The research provides a blueprint for creating “cell mimics,” with potential applications ranging from drug delivery to gobbling up bacteria in the body or microscopic pollutants in water like PAC-MAN.

In the lab of chemistry professor Tania Lupoli, researchers found that telaprevir, an existing drug for hepatitis C, made bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics and reduced the likelihood of antibiotic resistance. The drug works by blocking the function of chaperones—important proteins that fold other proteins in the cell—in bacteria. In the future, the researchers envision that small molecule chaperone inhibitors like telaprevir could be used in combination with antibiotics to enhance antibiotic potency and lower resistance.

The first round of voting runs from March 1 through March 7, after which winners will advance to the next round; a champion will be crowned on April 4. Details and dates are available on the STAT Madness site.

STAT Madness was created by the health media company STAT News, which is produced by Boston Globe Media.

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