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Obama’s precision medicine initiative catches up to, spurs cancer research

$215 million initiative includes plans to amass genetic, health data on a million volunteers

Jan. 30, 2015 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 30, 2015, in Washington D.C., calling for an investment to move away from one-size-fits-all-medicine, toward an approach that tailors treatment to your genes.

Photo by Carolyn Kaster / AP

Before President Barack Obama announced a precision medicine initiative in his State of the Union address last week, many Americans were probably unfamiliar with the term. Not cancer researchers.

“Oncology has been on the leading edge of precision medicine,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and an expert in cancer genetics. Much of his career has centered on precision medicine, which focuses on targeted treatments for patients.  

Gilliland and other top cancer researchers praised the initiative Friday when the Obama administration released additional details, including plans to amass genetic and health data on more than a million American volunteers to better understand genetic causes of disease and streamline drug discovery. 

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Kansas City Royals star Alex Gordon is 50th Hutch Award honoree

Baseball great Dave Winfield delivered annual ceremony’s keynote address at Safeco Field

Jan. 29, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Alex Gordon

“I’m truly honored to have my name associated with Mr. Hutch," said Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, winner of the 50th annual Hutch Award.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Brilliant sunshine, life-changing science and baseball all came together on Thursday as friends and fans of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center took to the field for the 2015 Hutch Award Luncheon held at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners.

Nearly 1,000 community members, cancer researchers and sports and music celebrities sat in nearly 60-degree weather at this year’s luncheon, which honored Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, winner of the 50th  annual Hutch Award. Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield, delivered the keynote address.

“I’m truly honored to have my name associated with Mr. Hutch," said Gordon, after accepting the award from Rick Hutchinson, son of the late Fred Hutchinson. “And it’s also an honor to join past winners such as Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, George Brett and Johnny Bench and many others … It’s a very humbling list to be a part of.”

The Hutch Award is presented annually to a Major League Baseball player who exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of the late Fred Hutchinson, the beloved pitcher and manager who died of lung cancer at the age of 45. After his death, Seattle surgeon Dr. Bill Hutchinson helped to create the world-class research center as a living memorial to his younger brother’s memory.

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A mother's legacy: Dave Winfield has spent his life carrying on his mom's values

Hutch Award Luncheon keynote speaker was the first active athlete to start a charitable foundation

Jan. 28, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Dave Winfield is the keynote speaker of this year's Hutch Award Luncheon

This file photo from 1995 shows Dave Winfield, sidelined due to an injury, sitting alone in the dugout as he watches his Cleveland Indians teammates work out in Atlanta.

File photo by Ed Reinke / AP

He was one of the most imposing athletes to ever set foot onto a baseball diamond, a 6-foot-6-inch powerhouse who was drafted by four leagues in three different sports after college and became one of seven Major League Baseball players in history to amass 3,000 hits and 450 home runs during his 22-year career. 

But Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield said he felt powerless when it came to dealing with his mother’s cancer diagnosis. She was the person who inspired him most in life, he said, a petite woman with a giant presence who instilled in him a set of values that shaped a stellar career and a lifetime of good works.

Winfield, now 63, will be the keynote speaker at the Hutch Award Luncheon on Thursday at Seattle’s Safeco Field. The Hutch Award is given each year to recognize a baseball player who epitomizes the spirit of Fred Hutchinson, the courageous and inspirational MLB player and manager who died of lung cancer at the age of 45. This year’s winner is Alex Gordon, a star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals who’s helped raise more than $1 million for pediatric cancer research.

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New strategy could prevent GMO leaks from lab to the wild

Scientists rewrite bacterium’s genetic language so it can’t survive outside the lab

Jan. 27, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

The bacterium E. coli

Scientists have engineered the bacterium E. coli (pictured here) so its life depends on an artificial chemical available only in the laboratory. This strategy could prevent leaks of genetically modified organisms from the lab into natural ecosystems.

Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

Scientists have crafted a bacterium incapable of surviving without human assistance. Using this strategy to build genetically modified organisms would prevent those GMOs from escaping into natural ecosystems, they say.

Genetically modified bacteria are commonly used in research and industry – for example, the bacterium E. coli is used to manufacture insulin and other drugs.

Whether bacteria could ever escape from those settings and wreak havoc in the natural world is unclear, but many members of the public feel containment strategies are necessary to prevent such a leak.

Scientists have tried many tactics to contain GMOs by manipulating their genes, but the bacteria eventually have found ways to evade those strategies, reverting back to their natural form. It became clear that any manufactured containment system would need multiple fail-safe layers.

Now, a team of scientists led by Dr. George Church of Harvard Medical School, involving collaborators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has created a molecular Fort Knox that they believe is evolution-proof, rewiring all of E. coli’s DNA to render the bug completely dependent on a synthetic chemical. 

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Gratitude, guilt and surviving cancer

Living through cancer is life-changing — often in unimagined and challenging ways, says leukemia survivor Jessie Quinn

Jan. 26, 2015 | By Dr. Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Jessie Quinn shown dancing at a friend's wedding with her daughter and husband

A cancer diagnosis is a ticket to an emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t end when doctors pronounce a cure. Leukemia survivor Jessie Quinn, shown dancing at a friend’s wedding with her daughter and husband, carries a deep sadness even after her strength and zest for life has returned. “I think about all the people who went through this, to get us where we are now. It’s an overwhelming thought to me.”

Photo courtesy of Jessie Quinn

There’s a cancer narrative you see a lot. A noble individual is struck by the terrible disease, with which they do battle. After righteous struggle, the fighter emerges victorious and reclaims their former life. Now gifted with the wisdom of the saints, they remain above the petty daily struggles that mire mere mortals.

It’s an appealing story. It gives meaning to a dark chapter in anyone’s life. But it’s a little hard to live up to, said Jessie Quinn, a four-year survivor of acute myeloid leukemia. “There’s an expectation that you’ll be a beacon of hope, a Buddha of wisdom. I felt none of that,” she said.

Staring your own mortality in the face, it turns out, doesn’t also confer a peek into some grand universal plan. Surviving cancer also does not bring a magical immunity to the burden of non-life-threatening daily struggles. Survival instead often brings unanticipated challenges.

Quinn was just 35 when she was diagnosed with AML. Happily married, engaged in an active outdoor career as a wildlife biologist in California and just getting her parental sea legs as the mother of an 18-month-old daughter, she saw her life unfolding along a happy, rewarding — and healthy — path. But cancer sent her life spinning down unexpected and uncharted byways.

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Fight the flu with Netflix?

Staying home and avoiding others can put a big dent in an epidemic, new TV-flu study finds

Jan. 22, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

protective masks in Mexico City

While some wore protective masks in Mexico City to combat H1N1's spread during the 2009 outbreak, staying home and watching TV was what helped slow the spread, a new study suggests.

File photo by Eduardo Verdugo / AP

We’ve all heard the advice. If you get sick with a cold or flu, stay home so you don’t pass it on to friends, co-workers or that guy sitting next to you on the bus.

Sure, sure, we say, loading up on Nyquil and heading out the door. Who can stay home when we’ve got projects to complete at work, movies to see, or that special birthday dinner out on the town with mom?

An interesting new study that looked at home television viewing during a flu epidemic in Mexico, however, shows just how much staying at home and avoiding contact with others can actually quell the spread of infectious diseases like the flu.

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