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A scientific grand slam

WashU Med researchers publish in NEJM, JAMA, Nature, Science – all in a week’s time

March 10, 2023

Matt Miller

It’s a scientific grand slam for researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. In the past week, they published papers in Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, Science and JAMA – all among the world’s most prestigious scientific journals.

Their innovative research – on topics ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and treatment-resistant depression, to rising rates of diabetes, hypertension and obesity among young people, and a potential treatment strategy for a rare bone marrow failure syndrome – drives the discoveries that will improve the health of people in our region and the world.

Here’s a brief overview:

Results of a major multicenter clinical trial led by Eric J. Lenze, MD, head of the Department of Psychiatry, showed that for older adults with clinical depression that has not responded to standard treatments, adding the drug aripiprazole (Abilify) to the antidepressant they’re already taking is more effective than switching seniors from one antidepressant to another. The study was published online March 3 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

By studying mice with Alzheimer’s-like brain damage due to the protein tau, David Holtzman, MD, the Barbara Burton and Reuben M. Morriss III Distinguished Professor of Neurology, and colleagues discovered that immune cells called microglia attract powerful cell-killing T cells into the brain, and that most of the neurodegeneration could be avoided by blocking the T cells’ entry or activation. The findings open up a new strategy for drug development for Alzheimer’s and other tauopathies. The research was published March 8 in Nature.

Rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension are rising among young adults in the United States, according to an analysis of CDC data by Karen Joynt Maddox, MD, associate professor of medicine, and collaborators at Harvard Medical School. Studying data from 13,000 people ages 20 to 44, they found that the prevalence of diabetes increased from 3% to 4.1% from 2009 to 2020, while obesity rose dramatically from 32.7% to 40.9%, and hypertension rose from 9% to 12%, highlighting the need for more concerted efforts to address the problems. The study was published March 5 in JAMA.

People with bone marrow failure are at increased risk of infections and are prone to developing skin and blood cancers. Research led by Luis Batista, PhD, associate professor of medicine, has identified a possible treatment strategy for a rare bone marrow failure syndrome named poikiloderma with neutropenia. While fewer than 1,000 people in the U.S. have the condition, the research may have implications for treating other bone marrow failure syndromes with similar underlying dysfunctions. The research was published March 2 in Science.