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Beyond blood drives: Stem cell donors help fuel scientific discovery

Volunteers for the little-known procedures earn up to $800 – and the chance to contribute to cutting-edge research

Oct. 31, 2014 | By JoNel Aleccia / Fred Hutch News Service

Seth McPherson

Seth McPherson, 23, settles in for a three-hour session of leukapheresis at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on a recent weekday. The Seattle pipefitter said he likes the idea of donating his cells for science.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

If Kristie Rollins seems unnaturally interested in the state of your veins, don’t worry.

It’s an occupational hazard for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center project manager, who spends half of her time at the Heimfeld Lab trying to track down people willing to donate their peripheral blood stem cells, or PBSC – all in the name of science.

“When I show up, people say, ‘The Vampire’s here,’” said Rollins, who admits she recruits colleagues, friends and friends-of-friends as donors -- and has even been known to flag down waitresses with particularly promising arms. 

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Eye on a cure: Bandage contact lenses may heal ocular graft-vs.-host disease

Small study shows big benefit from contacts that soothe debilitating side effects

Oct. 30, 2014 | JoNel Aleccia / Fred Hutch News Service

Julie Polon

Julie Polon suffered from painful graft-vs.-host disease in her eyes after a stem cell transplant until she joined a clinical trial of contact lenses that acted as bandages. Polon was photographed at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.

Photo by Rajah Bose for Fred Hutch News Service

It took a stem cell transplant from her sister to help Julie Polon survive Stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But the same treatment that saved her life also threatened to ruin it with side effects caused by a common and devastating condition.

Now, thanks to scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Polon, a 47-year-old mother of five, has found a way to heal one of the worst symptoms of chronic graft-vs.-host disease, which occurs when cells from a stem cell donor attack the body of the host.  In Polon’s case, the GVHD affected her intestines, her mouth, and, worst of all, her eyes.

Her case of ocular GVHD was so severe, the Colville, Washington, woman was recruited as one of the first participants in a clinical trial of bandage contact lenses, therapeutic devices that protect the cornea and soothe the dry eye, irritation, redness and light sensitivity suffered by many stem cell transplant patients. 

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The changing face of mammography

New study highlights cost effectiveness of adding 3-D imaging for women with dense breast tissue

Oct. 28, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Christoph Lee

Dr. Christoph Lee, a researcher with the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, led a new study that evaluated the cost effectiveness of adding 3D mammography to standard digital imaging for women with dense breasts.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Women with dense breast tissue have long been in a quandary.

Dense tissue slightly elevates the risk for developing breast cancer and it can also be difficult to read. Unfortunately, 2-D digital mammograms alone may not spot a hidden cancer so many women opt for additional screening. But what is the most effective screening method to catch a potential cancer? And will this additional screening be covered by insurance?

A new study out of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has laid key groundwork to solve this cancer Catch-22.

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HIV vaccine trial passes first hurdle in South Africa

‘Encouraging’ results lay groundwork for more trials in 2015

Oct. 28, 2014 | By Mary Engel

Dr. Glenda Gray

Dr. Glenda Gray, lead investigator on the just-released South Africa study, co-principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network and president of the South African Medical Research Council, gave network members a preview of study results at a meeting last week in Seattle.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

The first in a series of clinical trials designed to build on the promise of an HIV vaccine that showed modest protection when tested in Thailand has passed a key hurdle, according to a new study. It paves the way for larger HIV vaccine trials to move forward in South Africa.

The trial found that the so-called Thai vaccine induced comparable immune responses when tested in South Africa as it had in the original trial. This early phase of testing was designed to see how a different population’s immune system would respond, not—yet—whether the vaccine would protect against HIV.  

The results, announced Tuesday at a conference in Cape Town, are significant because participants in the Thai and South African trials varied in ethnicity, body mass index, gender and age, all of which could have affected response.

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Chest radiation to beat childhood Wilms tumor may boost later risk of breast cancer

Treatment now cures nearly 90 percent of children with rare disease, but effects linger into adulthood, new study finds

Oct. 26, 2014 | By JoNel Aleccia / Fred Hutch News Service

Radiograph of the chest of a 5-year-old girl

This digitally reconstructed radiograph, or DRR, shows the chest of a 5-year-old girl with Wilms tumor who received radiation therapy as part of her treatment. A new study finds the risk of breast cancer is nearly 30 times higher than expected in Wilms tumor survivors treated with full-chest radiation.

Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc, credit Journal Cancer and © 2014 American Cancer Society

Young girls who receive full-chest radiation after contracting Wilms tumor, a rare childhood kidney disease, may face a much higher risk of developing breast cancer when they grow up, a new study finds.

The effects of radiation exposure boosted the chance of breast cancer nearly 30 times higher than expected, suggesting that current screening guidelines should be changed to ensure early diagnosis and treatment in female Wilms tumor survivors who received radiation therapy.

That’s according to a new analysis of data from the National Wilms Tumor Study, a longitudinal database that was started by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists 45 years ago and includes an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of all cases that occur in the United States.

The study, published Monday in the journal Cancer, offers a warning about treatment for Wilms tumor, which can spread from the kidney to the lungs. In such cases, children are typically dosed with chest radiation of 12 Gray, the unit that measures absorbed radiation in the body, said Dr. Norman Breslow, a biostatistician with the University of Washington and Fred Hutch who has worked with the study since its inception. In the past, the standard dose was higher, 14 Gray.

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Living with Stage 4

In a culture focused on survivorship, those with metastatic breast cancer who will be in treatment for the rest of their lives can feel isolated and misunderstood

Oct. 24, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Terri Pollastro

Teri Pollastro, a 54-year-old Stage 4 patient from Seattle, said, “People don’t understand the word metastatic to begin with. ... When I’d tell them I was Stage 4, they’d give me pity or stay away or see me a year later and think I was a ghost. They couldn’t believe I was alive."

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

A no-nonsense Texan of 60 years, Jody Schoger has a very no-nonsense way of educating people about her metastatic breast cancer.

“Someone will say, ‘When are you done with treatment?’ and I’ll tell them, ‘When I’m dead,’” said Schoger, a writer and cancer advocate who lives near Houston.  “So many people interpret survivorship as going across the board. That everybody survives cancer now. But everybody does not survive cancer.”

An estimated 155,000-plus women (and men) in the U.S. currently live with “mets,” Stage 4 breast cancer that’s metastasized, or traveled, through the bloodstream to create tumors in the liver, lungs, brain, bones and/or other parts of the body. While treatable, metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is incurable, between 20 and 30 percent of women with early stage breast cancer go on to develop MBC. Median survival is three years; annually, the disease takes 40,000 lives. 

As with primary breast cancer, treatment for mets can often be harsh and unforgiving.  But dealing with an incurable illness and the side effects of its treatment aren’t the only burden MBC patients have to bear. Many also have to educate others about their disease, explaining over and over that no, the scans and blood tests and treatments will never come to end. No, the metastasized breast cancer in their lungs is neither lung cancer nor linked to smoking. No, staying positive and “just fighting hard” isn’t going to beat back their late-stage disease.

As one mets patient in this Living Beyond Breast Cancer video put it, “It’s almost like having another job … My wish would be that the larger support circle would just get it more.”

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