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'A powerful lesson in giving'

How a beloved aunt's memory inspired a Girl Scout, a group of friends, neighbors and countless others

Nov. 25, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

McCall Hunter with her parents, James and Kris Hunter

McCall Hunter, 9, shown in her Seattle, Washington, home with her parents, James and Kris Hunter, on Nov. 19, 2015. Inspired by the memory of an aunt and in honor of a friend's mom with breast cancer, McCall raised money for cancer research.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

There’s something strikingly familiar about the cancer community and how those who’ve been touched by this collection of deadly, debilitating diseases will often come together, almost as if at a big table, to pass along love, support, gratitude and good deeds like so many bowls of mashed potatoes and slabs of homemade pie.

So it is with 9-year-old McCall Hunter and her family, friends and neighbors here in Seattle and beyond. So it is with the strangers who were moved by the fourth grader’s desire to make a difference and the Fred Hutch researchers who were inspired by the Girl Scout’s dedication and generosity.

About four years ago, the Hunters lost a beloved family friend to breast cancer. Stephanee Jane Rowbury, who died at 44, was a charming, funny and whip-smart event planner and caterer who grew up in Idaho but was a Texan at heart, the kind of woman who referred to her hair color as “chocolate cake,” the kind of woman who had a Maudie’s Tex-Mex margarita named for her, the kind of woman who flew from Austin to Seattle each and every February to celebrate her longtime friend’s daughter birthday.

To the world, she was a glamour girl and gourmet cook. To McCall, she was simply funny, loving bedtime-story-spinning Auntie Stephie.

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How growing a mustache raises awareness for men’s health

Fred Hutch's Dr. Jonathan Wright answered questions about Movember in our latest tweet chat

Nov. 25, 2015 | By Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Jonathan Wright

Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Jonathan Wright, sporting a mustache he grew for Movember, participated in a Twitter chat to answer questions and create awareness for men's health.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Have you noticed more of your coworkers are sporting mustaches this month? They are most likely participating in Movember.

The movement was started by the Movember Foundation, which is committed to helping men live happier, healthier, longer lives. Since 2003, the foundation has raised $650 million and funded over 1,000 projects.

Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Jonathan Wright started growing his first Movember-inspired 'stache in 2011, and continues to partner with his collegues from the University of Washington and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to spread the word about men's health.

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More early cervical cancer cases being detected under Affordable Care Act

New study finds higher rates of young women covered by parents' private insurance being diagnosed, treated earlier

Nov. 24, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Affordable Care Act supporters

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act react with cheers as the opinion for health care is reported outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in June 2015. A new study looked at the ACA's Dependent Coverage Expansion and found that young women covered by the program were finding their cervical cancers earlier.

Photo by Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

There’s no doubt that the Affordable Care Act is a political and economic hot potato, taking blame, just this month, for everything from the insurance industry’s profit losses to craft beer makers possibly going bust over revised nutrition label requirements.

But study results published Tuesday in JAMA highlight a potential upside to the overhaul in health care: young women aged 21 to 25, now covered under the ACA’s Dependent Coverage Expansion program, may be discovering their cervical cancer at an earlier stage.

The study, conducted by researchers with the American Cancer Society, looked at cervical cancer diagnoses in young women both before and after the September 2010 implementation of the ACA-DCE program, which allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.

“Among women aged 21 to 25 years,” the authors wrote in a research letter, “the proportion of early-stage disease increased from 67.9 percent in 2009 to 84.3 percent in 2011.”

In addition, the authors found that many of the young women were able to receive less-aggressive, fertility-sparing treatment for their early cervical cancer – one of many caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Women aged 26 to 34, who were ineligible for the ACA’s DCE program, showed no significant increase in early-stage cervical cancer diagnoses.

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Do we create our own time?

Cell biologist Dr. Mark Roth gets deep on suspended animation and philosophy with audience of marijuana enthusiasts

Nov. 19, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Mark Roth

Dr. Mark Roth, cell biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, gave a lecture as part of The Goodship Academy of Higher Education Wednesday evening.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

When master of ceremonies Greg Lundgren introduced Dr. Mark Roth at a lecture Wednesday, he couldn’t help but hype the cell biologist’s work.

“There is a little bit of a mad scientist in it,” Lundgren said. “It’s a little bit Frankenstein.”

When Roth got up in front of the microphone to deliver a talk titled “Altered States: Can we control time?”, he didn’t disappoint.

The longtime Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist was speaking at the third lecture of The Goodship Academy of Higher Education, a new salon series run by marijuana edibles company The Goodship in partnership with the Stranger. It’s billed as “a heady lecture series under heady influence” and attendees are encouraged to arrive “pre-boarded” — i.e., stoned.

Roth, not under the influence himself, started Wednesday’s discussion with his own heady ideas.

“Time is really change,” he said. “If we don’t have any change, time is meaningless. In fact, there is no time for things that do not have change. So hold that in your head, if you can.”

In the next 30 minutes, Roth went on to touch on many historical concepts of time and consciousness, from those of Einstein to Newton and his own research on suspended animation and preventing death from heart disease.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Nov. 19, 2015 | By Fred Hutch News Service staff

Members of the Boeck Lab volunteer at Life Sciences Research Weekend

Tillie Loeffelholz, Laurel Joncas-Schronce and Olena Tseona staff the Boeckh Lab table at Life Sciences Research Weekend.

Photo courtesy of Life Sciences Research Weekend

Fred Hutch staff, scientists participate in Life Sciences Research Weekend

More than a dozen Fred Hutch scientists and staff participated in the ninth annual Life Sciences Research Weekend Nov. 6-8 at Pacific Science Center in Seattle.

The event, which drew more than 5,500 visitors, included live demonstrations, interactive exhibits and talks for school children, families and “citizen scientists” interested in learning more about the life sciences and the key role research plays in daily life.

Fred Hutch participants, including members of the Boeckh and Peichel labs, were among more than 380 volunteers from over 35 companies and organizations that staffed 29 activity tables throughout the three-day event.

Activities provided by the Boeckh Lab focused around making a model flu virus out of play dough and pipe cleaners; the Peichel Lab’s table included a tank of stickleback fish and information about the role these creatures play in understanding growth, behavior, cell division and chromosome evolution, among other biological mechanisms.

“We hope that every visitor went home with a new appreciation of the fun of science and recognition of Fred Hutch and the other life sciences companies and institutions that contribute valuable research and innovations to our health and economy,” said Dr. Reitha S. Weeks, Life Sciences Research Weekend program lead.

Other participating organizations included the Center for Infectious Disease Research, the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the University of Washington and ZymoGenetics.

A National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award sponsored the event.

Dr. William Grady

Dr. William Grady

Fred Hutch file

Five Hutch researchers receive Consortium pilot funding, four receive New Investigator awards

Five Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center investigators have received pilot funding of up to $80,000 each in direct costs from the Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium to pursue “highly innovative concepts that have the potential to improve the lives of cancer patients.”

Those who have received funding from the Cancer Center Support Grant are, in alphabetical order:

Dr. William Grady, a physician and cancer geneticist in the Clinical Research Division, will lead a project to grow human and mouse colorectal epithelial cells in the lab to establish model systems for studying the role of specific genetic alterations on the progression of precancerous polyps to cancer. Such culture systems will allow the study of genetic alterations that determine whether polyps remain benign or progress to cancer. This work will be done in collaboration with co-investigators Dr. Jon Grim of the Clinical Research Division and Dr. Patrick Paddison of the Human Biology and Public Health Sciences Divisions, as well as researchers at Baylor Medical College.

Dr. Elizabeth Trice Loggers

Dr. Elizabeth Trice Loggers

Fred Hutch file

Dr. Elizabeth Trice Loggers, a palliative care specialist and medical oncologist in the Clinical Research Division, will lead, with Dr. Frances Marcus Lewis, UW Medical Center professor of nursing leadership, a study to test the feasibility and effectiveness of an evidence-based educational counseling program for terminally ill cancer patients who have dependent children living at home. According to Loggers, such parents currently are “severely underserved” in how to manage their own impending death and the emotional and developmental toll their cancer has on their children. The study will involve 33 patients with stage 4 cancer, along with their significant other (if applicable) and their children (ages 5 to 17), who will receive five cancer-education counseling sessions. If the intervention is found to improve parent-child communication in the patient’s final days, as well as the bereavement process for the surviving partner and child, Loggers and colleagues hope to test it in a multi-site, randomized controlled trial.

Dr. Joshua Roth

Dr. Joshua Roth

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Joshua Roth, a comparative-effectiveness researcher in the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, HICOR, based in the Public Health Sciences Division, will head up a study that aims to measure the overuse of radiation therapy procedures among Medicare and private-payer (Regence/Premera) cancer patients. To this end, Roth and colleagues from HICOR and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance will measure associations between patient, health-system and policy-level factors and adherence to the American Association for Radiation Oncology “Choosing Wisely” recommendations. The CW initiative is a national effort to improve quality of health services by highlighting overuse of selected medical intervention. While the majority of cancer health-disparities research has focused on the underuse of guideline-recommended therapies, some studies suggest that traditionally underserved patients may also be more likely to receive non-guideline-based treatment, even if it leads to treatment overuse. This study is important, Roth says, because the inappropriate use – and overuse – of cancer treatment subjects patients to unnecessary clinical risks, undue psychological harm and unnecessary financial burden while adding to the cost of cancer care.

Drs. Barry Stoddard and Matthias Stephan

Drs. Barry Stoddard (left) and Matthias Stephan

Fred Hutch file

Dr. Matthias Stephan, an immunobioengineer in the Clinical Research Division, and Dr. Barry Stoddard, a structural biologist in the Basic Sciences Division, will co-lead a project to try to overcome certain obstacles in immunotherapy. While T-cell-based immunotherapy is an emerging and promising treatment for a variety of cancers, it faces a complication: tumors can produce factors that block the treatment’s anticancer effects. To get around this obstacle, Stephan, Stoddard and colleagues will perform gene editing of tumor-specific T cells to prevent the tumor’s influence in shutting down the T-cells’ anticancer activities. By combining the expertise of their two laboratories, the researchers plan to leverage data from this pilot project to apply for a collaborative National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant.

Two additonal pilot grants were awarded to the following University of Washington investigators: Dr. Lillian Maggio-Price of the UW Department of Comparative Medicine for a project titled "Germ-free mutant mice as bio-indicators of colon cancer risk in UC patients," and Dr. Richard Gardner of the UW Department of Pharmacology for a project called "Defining the ubiquitin-mediated regulation of ribosome biogenesis to develop novel anti-cancer therapeutics."

In addition to the pilot grants, four Fred Hutch investigators, all based in the Clinical Research Division, have received New Investigator Support Awards of up to $80,000 each from the Cancer Center Support Grant:

  •  Dr. Sylvia Lee, who studies immunotherapy-based approaches to treat melanoma and lung cancer;
  • Dr. Johnnie Orozco, who studies novel approaches for the transplantation of blood-forming stem cells;
  • Dr. Seth Pollack, who studies and treats sarcomas, cancers of the bone and soft tissues; and
  • Dr. Cristina Rodriguez, who researches and treats cancers of the head and neck.

Two UW faculty members also received New Investigator Support Awards: Dr. Farhood Farjah of the UW Department of Medicine, Surgery; and Dr. Richard Gardner of the UW Department of Pharmacology.

These awards provide developmental support to new or junior faculty who are establishing their research within the Fred Hutch/UW Cancer Consortium. The funds provide a flexible source of funding designed to allow new investigators to work toward obtaining future, independent research funding.

Drs. Josh Hill and Michael Boeckh

Dr. Josh Hill (left) and his mentor, Dr. Michael Boeckh

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Joshua  Hill  wins Young Investigator Award for work on HHV-6

Dr. Joshua Hill, a research associate in Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, earlier this month received the Caroline B. Hall Young Investigator Award at the International HHV-6 & 7 Conference in Boston for his work on human herpesvirus 6, or HHV-6.

Almost everyone worldwide is infected with HHV-6 by age 3. As with all herpesviruses, infection is life-long, but it usually remains dormant. Hill is developing novel molecular diagnostic tests to determine whether HHV-6 reactivation is an important cause of pneumonia in patients undergoing stem cell transplants, perhaps offering an explanation for some of the approximately 10 percent of post-transplant pneumonias that are of unknown origin. This work may pave the way for better preventive or treatment strategies.

He is also exploring an aspect of HHV-6 that sets it apart from other herpesviruses — its ability to integrate itself into the human genome — and what role inherited chromosomally integrated HHV-6 may play in causing encephalitis, graft-versus-host disease or other complications after transplant. Hill and colleagues have developed a screening algorithm to efficiently identify a large cohort of patients affected by integrated HHV-6 using transplant patient and donor samples that have been archived by the Fred Hutch Research Cell Bank over the past 30 years. This will be the largest group of transplant patients with integrated HHV-6 studied to date and may reveal insights into the clinical significance of this condition.

Hill first came to Fred Hutch in 2011 to join Dr. Michael Boeckh’s research team as an infectious disease fellow. In his nomination letter, Boeckh, head of Fred Hutch’s Infectious Disease Sciences Program, described Hill as “a rising star in the field of transplant infectious disease and HHV-6 research.”

Dr. Benjamin Anderson

Dr. Benjamin O. Anderson

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Benjamin Anderson co-authors Disease Control Priorities 3rd Edition

Dr. Benjamin O. Anderson, a breast cancer surgeon and expert in breast global health in the Public Health Sciences Division, is the co-author of a newly released textbook, Disease Control Priorities 3rd Edition, or DCP3, volume on cancer. The book gathers essential information on effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, feasibility and affordability of a range of cancer interventions to provide evidence-based guidance to decision makers worldwide.

“The launch of the DCP3 cancer volume marks an exciting transition in international health care and global oncology,” Anderson said. “In 2011, the United Nations instructed the World Health Organization to address noncommunicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries, which for the first time placed cancer on the global health map. The DCP3 cancer volume brings together much-needed information and economic analysis for policy makers and implementers to advance this important health challenge.”

The volume was developed by the Disease Control Priorities Network at the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The lead editor is Hellen Gelband, associate director at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy.

For more information, visit and follow DCP3 on Twitter using @DCPthree.

Prostate cancer screening and rate of early diagnosis drops, studies find

An expert weighs in on whether new findings are good news, bad news or no news

Nov. 18, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

PSA blood test

Howard Dublin has his blood drawn for a prostate cancer screening before current guidelines recommending against routine PSA tests went into effect.

Photo by Tom Williams / Contributor via Getty Images

Just as the tumultuous debate over breast cancer screening guidelines has begun to fade from the headlines, a new screening issue – this one regarding prostate cancer – has taken its place.

Two new studies published Tuesday in JAMA show that fewer men are being screened for prostate cancer and fewer early stage cases are being caught.

“Both the incidence of early-stage prostate cancer and rates of PSA screening have declined and coincide with the 2012 (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) recommendation to omit PSA screening from routine primary care for men,” wrote study authors from the American Cancer Society. 

In 2012, the federal USPSTF recommended against PSA screening for average-risk men of all ages, saying the benefits of PSA-based screening for prostate cancer do not outweigh the harms. Earlier, in 2008, the federal task force had recommended that men over the age of 75 stop being screened.

In one of the new studies, researchers used data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) records, to show that prostate cancers dropped from 535 per 100,000 men (50 and older) in 2005 to 416.2 per 100,000 men in 2012, with the biggest drop happening between 2011 and 2012.

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