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CU Anschutz in the Spotlight: Here Are the Top 10 Stories of 2021

COVID-19 stories dominated, but headlines about Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and mental health also broke into the most-read top 10

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Written by Staff on December 14, 2021
What You Need To Know

Here is a look at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus newsroom’s most-read stories of 2021.

With the events of the past year underpinned by the fast-mutating SARS-CoV-2 virus and the vaccine rollout, researchers, clinicians and other healthcare professionals at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus remained in the spotlight in 2021.

It was a year marked by turbulence, mostly tied to the ever-evolving virus at the center of the global crisis. Every period of pandemic headway came with a sudden new-variant crest and the gut-wrenching ride through yet another COVID-19 wave. Our researchers were at the forefront, researching the causes and effects of the novel coronavirus and playing instrumental roles in the vaccine rollout.

COVID-related stories dominated our most-read pieces of the year, but stories about multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, mental health, engineered cancer-fighting cells, and therapies that hold the promise of extending the human lifespan also broke into the top 10.

Without further ado, here are our top stories of 2021:



#1 – Delta Variant Overtakes COVID-19 Cases in Colorado: Should You Worry?

As a race that pits vaccine against virus forges on, a stealthy move by one contender might have just pushed the finish line farther out.

The delta variant, a faster version of SARS-CoV-2, has surged ahead of other variants, accounting for about 75% of all COVID-19 cases in Colorado. And it accomplished its takeover in less than two months.

“That’s really, wow. That spread very fast,” said Rosemary Rochford, PhD, a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.



#2 – Christina Applegate Diagnosis Pushes MS Into Spotlight

Multiple sclerosis (MS) landed in the spotlight earlier this month when actress Christina Applegate announced that she had been diagnosed with the disease.

Applegate, 49, rose to fame in the sitcom “Married with Children” and stars in the recent Netflix series “Dead to Me.”  She announced her diagnosis in an Aug. 10 tweet. “It’s been a strange journey,” she said. “But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition. It’s been a tough road. But as we all know, the road keeps going.” 

CU Anschutz Today reached out to Enrique Alvarez, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and clinical staff member at Rocky Mountain MS Center, for a Q&A about MS and how treatments are progressing for those with the disease.



#3 – CU Anschutz Experts Break COVID-19 Effects Down by Body Part

During the months-long pandemic, healthcare providers have seen a lot of things, often on levels they have never seen before. From brain fog and loss of smell to leg clots and purple toes, what began as a mysterious pulmonary disease has shown the world that its destructive powers far transcend the lungs.

While respiratory failure remains the most serious outcome of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), scientists have found evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can make its way into most major systems of the body using its spike proteins to attach and invade through ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) receptors.

Experts from the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, share some of the effects they’ve seen on the body, from head to toe. 



#4 – Patient Cancer Free After Cell Therapy Created by CU Anschutz

A new clinical trial at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, using cells genetically engineered by medical faculty to fight stubborn cancers, is showing encouraging results.

Created at the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility a few steps from CU Anschutz, the chimeric antigen receptor T cells, or CAR-T cells, are being infused into patients with difficult to treat or frequently recurring cancers at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital

It’s the first cellular immunotherapy project where the developmental science, regulatory filing and approvals, manufacturing process and infusion of patients in clinical trials have all been done at CU Anschutz.



#5 – Scientists Discover Ways of Making Old Blood New Again

Creating 200 billion-plus brand-new red blood cells a day can take a toll on a body. The capacity to replace components charged with the life-sustaining task of carrying oxygen eventually wears out with aging, resulting in health problems, from anemia to blood cancers.

What if we could halt the aging process and maintain young blood cells for life? With blood cells making up a whopping 90% of the body’s cells, it makes sense that keeping them abundant and fit could boost vitality into our golden years.

Now, a group of researchers, including experts at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, has discovered ways to do just that – keep the blood manufacturing process flowing. The work, recently published in the journal Nature, could open doors to everything from disease-preventive therapies to better blood banks.


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#6 – CU Anschutz Schools and Colleges Rank Among Nation’s Best in 2022 U.S. News & World Report Listing

Schools and colleges of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are again ranked among the best in the country on the 2022 U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of higher education programs.



#7 – Alzheimer’s Patients’ Cognition Improves with Sargramostim, New Study Shows

A new study suggests that Sargramostim, a medication often used to boost white blood cells after cancer treatments, is also effective in treating and improving memory in people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. This medication comprises of a natural human protein produced by recombinant DNA technology (yeast-derived rhu GM-CSF/Leukine®).

The study, from the University of Colorado Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Anschutz), presents evidence from their phase II clinical trial that shows that Sargramostim (GM-CSF) may have both disease-modifying and cognition-enhancing activities in Alzheimer’s disease patients. Sargramostim (GM-CSF) is the first Alzheimer’s drug to show patient improvement in a phase II clinical trial.



#8 – How Does Social Media Affect Our Mental Health?

A compulsive need to know. The fear of missing out. Mindlessness or numbing out. The freedom to say hateful things under cover of anonymity.

In this episode of the CU Anschutz 360 podcast, Emily Hemendinger, licensed clinical social worker and certified public health practitioner, explains that these are a few of the manifestations of social media use on our mental health. Hemendinger is a therapist in the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Colorado School of Medicine focusing on helping people with obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, anxiety and related mental health concerns.



#9 – Vaccinated? You Are Now Free to Move About the Cabin. Sort of.

For about 1.2 million Coloradans, the world suddenly appears brighter. They represent the small percentage of the state’s 5.9 million residents who, some might say, won the lottery first. They already have at least one COVID-19 shot.

Many of those people are grandparents, longing for the warmth of a grandchild’s hug. Or retired residents weary of being cooped up for months on end without their routine friend and family gatherings that keep them entertained and happy.

So how open is the world for them and the slowly growing COVID-19 vaccinated population?



#10 – Coronavirus Mutates Fast; New Strains Can Arise in Single Patient

Scientists have discovered that mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus can arise quickly in patients undergoing long-term treatment for the infection, allowing it to evolve into variants that pose new threats to public health.

The study, co-authored by David Pollock, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, was published last week in the journal Nature.

 “The SARS-CoV-2 virus is evolving and adapting to the point where it can replicate faster and evade the antibody response,” said Pollock. “That’s a real problem because it means that the way we do things now like social distancing, mask wearing, washing our hands may not be good enough, and we have to do more because it’s replicating so fast.”