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Keeping cancer a secret

Why some patients don’t divulge their diagnoses — and how oncologists guide them through their chosen seclusion

Aug. 29, 2016 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

secret cancer

Illustration by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

She chats with neighbors who think her worst ailment is a food allergy. She posts Facebook selfies, looking blond, slender and youthful. Her followers believe she’s the epitome of health. She keeps up with friends. Few know of any dark clouds in her life.

But she has a massive secret — stage 4 breast cancer, a metastatic recurrence, diagnosed one year ago.

Despite living in this tell-all, social-media age where more people seem comfortable discussing or tweeting their sniffles, scans and, for some, their cancers, this 43-year-old woman decided to reveal her illness only to a super-select few. She told her family, a handful of close friends and some of the men she dates. That’s it. The inner circle is tiny and tight, with no leaks. 

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Where science meets art

Our researchers capture incredible scientific images with artistic qualities that transform them into objects of beauty

Aug. 26, 2016

SyphCell 1

Microscopic images, such as this one captured by Raymond Liu of the Parkhurst Lab, help researchers in their scientific pursuits, but often provide stunning examples of beauty.

Raymond Liu / Parkhurst Lab / Image creation supported by instrumentation and expertise of the Scientific Imaging Shared Resource

For Fred Hutch researchers, art and science frequently intersect.

Discover the striking images our scientists have captured. These images exceed their role as a medium for communicating information and contain the artistic qualities that transform them into objects of beauty and art.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Aug. 25, 2016

Steve Henikoff symposium

Dr. Steve Henikoff, bottom right, and symposium attendees at Fred Hutch. The gathering honored Henikoff’s 35th year running his research lab.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Henikoff Lab celebrates 35 years at the Hutch

When Dr. Paul Neiman, one of the founders of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Basic Sciences Division, ran into the University of Washington’s Dr. Charles Laird over three decades ago, Neiman reportedly asked him, “Where did you find this guy Steve Henikoff? And can you send us more?”

Laird, Dr. Steven Henikoff’s postdoctoral research adviser, recounted that story Monday at a symposium hosted at Fred Hutch in honor of Henikoff’s 35th year running his basic sciences research lab. Henikoff, an expert in the field of epigenetics (although, as he described Monday, the definition of that term has been up for debate for years), joined the Hutch as a faculty member in 1981 after his stint in Laird’s UW lab. Fred Hutch was just six years old at the time.

In the 35 years since, Henikoff has made seminal discoveries about gene silencing and the structure of chromatin, chromosomes’ organizational system in the cell, said Fred Hutch Executive Vice President and Deputy Director Dr. Mark Groudine while introducing the symposium, which coincided with Henikoff’s 70th birthday. Groudine, director emeritus of the Basic Sciences Division, outlined some of Henikoff’s “all-time greatest hits” of how genes are organized and turned on and off inside our cells, as well as the biologist’s inventor spirit.

“He and his lab members develop new techniques when existing ones are not up to the task at hand,” Groudine said. Henikoff’s friends and colleagues also described his tireless work ethic: “We’ll hold another symposium in Steve’s honor 70 years from now because Steve will still be working in the lab at that time,” Groudine quipped.

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Taking steps to cure cancer

Scaling mountains to fund research is just another way to rescue lives for this intrepid 'Climb to Fight Cancer' team

Aug. 25, 2016 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Montrose Search and Rescue Team

Members of the Los Angeles-based Montrose Search and Rescue Team and their guides gather for a group photo at the beginning of their Mount Rainier climb. The team members, some of whom have been doing search and rescue for more than 20 years, have participated in the Climb to Fight Cancer program since 2007, raising nearly $130,000 for cancer research at Fred Hutch.

Photo courtesy of John Rodarte

They spend their work hours in offices, classrooms, clinics and emergency rooms and their free time in the mountains around Los Angeles searching for missing hikers, extricating crash victims from vehicles and belaying down cliffs to rescue people literally clinging to life by their fingernails.

What do these hearty souls do for fun? They strap on 50-pound backpacks and hike up mountains in pitch blackness to save an equally imperiled group: cancer patients.

Since 2007, a core group of intrepid volunteers from the Montrose Search and Rescue Team has participated in Climb to Fight Cancer, scaling a handful of peaks and raising a hefty $129,000 for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Since 1997, volunteers like the six participants who scaled Mount Rainier Aug. 14 have brought in nearly $8 million to Fred Hutch to help eradicate cancer and allow others to, as one member put it, “keep having sunrises.”

Saving lives is second nature to this gritty group, which stopped at Fred Hutch earlier this month to talk rescue — scientific and otherwise — on its way to climb Mount Rainier via the aptly named Disappointment Cleaver route.

“There’s such commitment and passion at Fred Hutch,” said Robert Sheedy, 67, who recently stepped down from a 45-year career in banking.  “Doing the tour just brought it all together. I’m fully invested. Mike and I have already signed up for Mount Hood next year. And we’re hoping to bring our sons.” 

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Can Rx monopolies be tamed?

Why prescription drugs cost twice as much in U.S. versus other advanced nations ― and what might be done about it

Aug. 23, 2016 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

prescription drugs

Americans, on average, pay more than double for prescriptions compared to other industrialized nations ― largely due to drug monopolies, Harvard researchers contend.

Stock photo by FeaturePics

Here’s one Rx for slashing runaway drug costs: get the monopoly money out of U.S. health care.

That’s the finding of a new study by Harvard researchers who blame “government-protected monopolies” granted to drug makers for fueling the surge in prescription prices ― a trend that’s hitting American patients hardest of all.

In the U.S., spending on prescribed drugs exceeded $850 per capita in 2013 ― compared to $400 for the rest of the industrialized world, reports the study, published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. As a result, prescription meds now comprise nearly 20 percent of total health care costs, jeopardizing the wellness of many patients who can’t afford their doctor-ordered drugs, researchers noted.

“Unlike … nearly every other advanced nation, the U.S. health care system allows manufacturers to set their own price for a given product,” wrote lead author Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a pharmacoeconomist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He and colleagues analyzed 12 years’ worth of peer-reviewed medical and health-policy literature on the topic. 

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Which cells to choose?

New study explores whether stem cells from bone marrow or blood offer transplant patients better quality of life

Aug. 16, 2016 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

BMT reunion

Bone marrow transplant patients gather on the Fred Hutch campus for the 2015 BMT reunion. Fred Hutch researchers played a pivotal role in developing bone marrow transplantation, a procedure that has been conducted more than 1 million times worldwide and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

For many patients with blood diseases like leukemia, their best shot at survival is to replace their diseased blood and immune cells with a transplant of healthy cells from an unrelated donor. A new study published this month provides those in need of these lifesaving transplants with additional information to guide a critical choice ― deciding whether cells for transplant be collected from the donor’s bloodstream or taken from their bone marrow.

A large, nationwide study published this month in the journal JAMA Oncology found that people who received transplants of cells collected from the donor’s bone marrow ― the original source for blood stem cell transplants, developed decades ago ― had better self-reported psychological well-being, experienced fewer symptoms of a common post-transplant side effect and were more likely to be back at work five years after transplant than those whose transplanted cells were taken from the donor’s bloodstream. 

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