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Jump-starting innovative projects exploring pathogen-associated cancers

Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center awards first round of pilot funding supporting researchers studying H. pylori, EBV and the microbiome

March 16, 2018 | By Sabrina Richards

Drs. Neelendu Dey, Nina Salama and Andrew McGuire

Inaugural PAM IRC pilot-award recipients include Drs. Neelendu Dey, Nina Salama and Andrew McGuire.

Fred Hutch file photos

Worldwide, as many as one in five cancer patients can trace their disease — directly or indirectly — to a pathogen. The good news is that this gives researchers a firm target to aim at when developing strategies to prevent or treat these cancers. The Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s most recently established IRC, was created to facilitate these studies. Directed by Dr. Denise Galloway, its goal is to support collaborative, multidisciplinary research into pathogen-associated cancers. Now, the PAM IRC has handed out its first pilot awards to jump-start innovative research.

The inaugural recipients of the PAM IRC Innovation Awards are principal investigators Dr. Neelendu Dey of the Clinical Research Division, Dr. Nina Salama of the Human Biology Division, and Drs. Andrew McGuire and Martin Prlic of the Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Division.

Dey will receive $100,000 over two years to investigate the role that the gut microbiome may play in the development of colorectal cancer through its effects on intestinal nerves. These nerves, termed the enteric nervous system, or ENS, influence gut motility, which in turn may play a role in the development and spread of colorectal cancer. Activity of the ENS is influenced by bile acids, which are modified by gut bacteria. Different gut bacteria modify bile acids various ways, producing products that can stimulate the ENS dissimilarly.

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A roadmap for precision colorectal cancer screening

New study combines environmental, lifestyle and genetic information to create a more nuanced risk-prediction model

March 15, 2018 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Roadmap illustration

Illustration by Kimberly Carney

Public health researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have drafted a roadmap of sorts for the future use of precision screening in detecting colorectal cancer.

Current screening guidelines recommend people at average risk get a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or other test starting at age 50. The new approach, based on a risk-prediction model, is much more nuanced; less one-size-fits-all. It uses individual risk factors and genetic data to determine when someone should start screening for colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

The model, which is not yet ready for prime time, recommends some people at high risk to start screening as early as age 40 and some at low risk to wait until their 60s.   

“A roadmap is definitely what we’re laying out,” said Fred Hutch epidemiologist Dr. Ulrike "Riki" Peters, shared senior author of the study, published last month in Gastroenterology. “We have a very solid approach in showing how we can integrate environmental, lifestyle and [inherited] genetic data to predict risk.”

Peters' colleague and shared senior author Dr. Li Hsu described the study as “a very important first step.”

“It was a long road to this point and it will be a long road to go to the next point,” said Hsu, a biostatistician in Fred Hutch's Public Health Sciences Division. “But it’s exciting. We’re trying to project risk for developing this cancer more precisely so that we can make more accurate recommendations for each individual.”

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$7 million grants boost functional genomics team science

Dr. Chris Kemp’s 2 NCI awards will help support drug-target discovery and commercialization for personalized oncology

March 15, 2018 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Christopher Kemp

Dr. Christopher Kemp

Fred Hutch file photo

A tumor’s genome provides an incredibly large amount of information — but it’s not always enough to point oncologists toward an effective drug. Dr. Christopher Kemp and colleagues at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center take cancer genomics several steps further, integrating genomic information with high-throughput screening methods that pinpoint known drug susceptibilities and potential drug targets. The strategy is already bearing fruit in a trial of a new drug against head and neck cancer. Now, Kemp and his collaborators have secured two new National Cancer Institute grants, totaling more than $7 million, to take their approach further.

“We can’t drug many of the most commonly mutated genes found in in cancer,” Kemp said. “There are spectacular examples of success in treating cancer based on DNA-sequence information, but these are seen in a small minority of patients. And even when these therapies work, the tumors often recur and develop drug resistance.”

Sometimes, drugs that target a specific mutation don’t work as well as expected in a patient; sometimes no drugs exist that can target a tumor’s specific array of mutations. These challenges require a new approach.

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Study uncovers new proteins involved in regulating muscular dystrophy-linked gene

CRISPR-based proteomics technique reveals potential therapeutic targets for FSHD, a rare but devastating disease

March 13, 2018 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Stephen Tapscott

Dr. Stephen Tapscott

Fred Hutch file photo

A new study has revealed more players in the pathway of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD, the most common form of muscular dystrophy.

Led by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center biologist Dr. Stephen Tapscott and staff scientist Dr. Amy Campbell, the study, published today in the journal eLife, is the first to systematically identify proteins involved in repressing the FSHD-triggering gene, DUX4.

Normally, the DUX4 gene is only turned on in very early embryonic development, shutting off before the embryo even implants in the uterus. But in people with FSHD, the DUX4 gene comes back on, progressively destroying muscle cells. The researchers have been trying to figure out how to shut it off again with the hopes of pointing to new therapeutic targets that could halt that progression.

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President's Cancer Panel addresses cost of cancer drugs

Fred Hutch leaders helped shape recommendations that put patients first, promoting value, affordability, innovation

March 12, 2018 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Sylvia Lee speaks with a patient at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Dr. Sylvia Lee speaks with a patient at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch's clinical care partner. A President’s Cancer Panel report issued today concludes that when it comes to defining the value of cancer drugs, patient benefit must be the central focus.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch file

In a report to the White House released today, an independent advisory group called for “urgent action” to address rapidly rising prices for cancer drugs and the burden cancer patients and their families can face because of the high cost of cancer care.

It issued six recommendations to ensure alignment of drug prices with their value, promote use of high-value drugs, and support innovation in cancer drug development.

Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, participated in workshops that led to the drafting of the report, and applauded the panel’s efforts to keep the needs of patients as its central focus. 

“We're not just racing to find cures, we're racing to find ways to lower the cost of cures, and support innovative ideas like value-based pricing to make health care more affordable to all," said Gilliland.

The report, “Promoting Value, Affordability, and Innovation in Cancer Drug Treatment,” is the latest released by the advisory group, called the President’s Cancer Panel, which since 1971 has regularly provided U.S. presidents a report on high-priority issues in the nation’s anti-cancer efforts.

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Health Disparities Research Center awards pilot grants for 2 new public health projects

Projects focus on breast health and promoting health education

March 9, 2018 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Rachel Ceballos of Fred Hutch (left) works with Barb Fox from the Carol Milgard Breast Center during a grant-writing workshop at the Hutch.

Dr. Rachel Ceballos (left) works with Barb Fox from the Carol Milgard Breast Center during a grant-writing workshop at the Hutch.

Photo by Norma Mariscal / Fred Hutch

Two community nonprofits, one focused on breast health and another promoting health education, are the latest recipients of pilot grants from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Health Disparities Research Center, or HDRC.

The Carol Milgard Breast Center, based in Tacoma, received an $8,000 grant to conduct research to help overcome barriers to good breast health within the Hispanic-Latina community of Pierce County. The Binaytara Foundation, based in Bellingham, received an $8,000 grant to raise the profile of cancer health disparities via a two-day summit and a national task force.

Each year, the HDRC invites community groups to the Hutch campus to participate in a two-day grant-writing workshop and vie for funding. Designed to better understand and eliminate the issues that prevent at-risk populations from leading longer and healthier lives, the workshops empower the groups to design and implement interventions that will specifically speak to the needs of minorities, gays, non-English speakers, the elderly and others. Grant recipients then work with mentors from Fred Hutch and the University of Washington to carry out their proposed research. Funding comes from Fred Hutch and the National Cancer Institute.

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