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July 22, 2016

Dr. Athea Vichas

Dr. Athea Vichas

Photo courtesy of Dr. Athea Vichas

Two young scientists earn first Hutch United fellowships

It’s a boost for young science — and a boon for diversity.

Dr. Athea Vichas and Vasundhara Sridharan have received the inaugural Hutch United fellowships, an initiative to back underrepresented researchers and bolster the retention and recruitment of lab talent at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Each recipient said the fellowships — which provide $100,000 in annual direct costs — would advance their science and elevate Fred Hutch’s stature as a highly inclusive organization.

“Earning it is an incredible honor,” said Vichas, a postdoctoral fellow in the Moens Lab, where researchers study development of the vertebrate brain, including genes involved in cancer progression.

“The presence of Hutch United speaks to the priorities the center has placed to allow underrepresented groups within the STEM field to not only feel included and welcome but also supported,” Vichas said.

The advancement of biomedical research, Vichas said, requires a diverse and collaborative environment that encourages scientists to investigate, question and learn. As an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon, Vichas co-led workshops through the school’s LGBT center and spoke on community panels “to share my personal experience as an out lesbian,” she said. Vichas also volunteers on the Hutch United Mentoring Network committee.

“Fostering really great mentoring is going to be key to retention and recruitment of these students,” Vichas said. “Right now, without that, you can easily walk into a STEM field and look around a room and not see anybody who is like you.”

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HIV vaccine clinical trials take center stage at world's largest global health conference

'The HIV vaccine field is open for business,' said Fred Hutch's Dr. Larry Corey at International AIDS Society's biennial meeting in Durban, South Africa

July 20, 2016 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Larry Corey

Dr. Larry Corey, who leads the HIV Vaccine Trials Network at Fred Hutch, talks about current and coming clinical trials at the AIDS2016 in Durban, South Africa.

By Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Editor's note: Fred Hutch News Service reporter Mary Engel and photographer Robert Hood are in Durban, South Africa, covering the news from the 21st International AIDS Conference.

DURBAN, South Africa — Hopes for a truly effective HIV vaccine were mostly the stuff of dreams in 2000, the last and only time Durban, South Africa hosted the biennial meeting of the International AIDS Society.

The global HIV Vaccine Trials Network, based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and led by virologist and former Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Larry Corey, was just being organized. No vaccine clinical trials were underway in South Africa, whose president at the time denied that HIV even caused AIDS.

Sixteen years later, things have changed.

When Corey took the stage Wednesday before fellow scientists, advocates, policymakers and people living with HIV attending AIDS 2016, the world’s largest global health conference, his message was upbeat.

“The HIV vaccine field,” he said, “is open for business.”

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Renewed hope for halting HIV through vaccine

At International AIDS Conference, researchers are optimistic as two new HIV vaccine trials are set to explore different approaches for protection

July 19, 2016 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr.  Anthony Fauci

“The pathway to HIV vaccine will be full of surprises,” predicted Dr. Anthony Fauci at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa on Tuesday.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Editor's note: Fred Hutch News Service reporter Mary Engel and photographer Robert Hood are in Durban, South Africa, covering the news from the 21st International AIDS Conference.

DURBAN, South Africa — Dr. Albert Sabin, developer of the oral live virus polio, once told Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Tony, I do not think we will ever have an HIV vaccine.”

As a physician, Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, had cared for Sabin in his last days. As a friend, he had delivered the eulogy when Sabin died at age 86 in 1993.

But as a scientist, he completely disagreed with one of the preeminent figures in medical history.

“As much as I loved him, my dear friend Albert Sabin will be proven to be incorrect — one of the very, very few times that Albert ever was wrong,” Fauci told a conference hall packed with scientists on Tuesday at the biennial meeting of the International AIDS Society in Durban, South Africa.

Fauci has reason to be optimistic. As the AIDS 2016 conference got underway, the NIAID-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network, or HVTN, based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was gearing up to launch a large-scale trial in South Africa in November, the first such trial to be in the field in a decade and one that could lead to the first licensed vaccine against HIV.

And within the last few months, the HVTN, working with its sister network, the HIV Prevention Trials Network, or HPTN, based in Durham, North Carolina, has begun what is already being called a landmark study to test an experimental, so-called broadly neutralizing antibody that could potentially protect people from infection by almost all strains of the rapidly mutating virus that causes AIDS.

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Global AIDS conference returns to Africa: What's changed

The last time the International AIDS Conference was in Africa, AIDS denialism was at its height; two Fred Hutch leaders in the fight to end HIV talk about where we’ve been – and what’s next

July 18, 2016

DURBAN, South Africa — The International AIDS Conference is being held this week in Durban, South Africa, only the second time it's been hosted in Africa. Dr. Larry Corey, leader of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and Dr. Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council and the co-leader of the HVTN, talk about what’s changed since that conference 16 years ago and what's coming next.
By Robert Hood and Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Drug-filled vaginal ring protects women from HIV — when used correctly

Consistent use of ring protects against HIV infection by up to 92 percent, according to new analyses that measured the effectiveness of consistent vs. inconsistent use

July 18, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa and Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Vaginal ring

A vaginal ring, laced with an antiviral drug known as dapivirine, can protect women from HIV infection, studies show. New analyses reveal how effective it is.

Photo by International Partnership for Microbicides

Editor's note: Fred Hutch News Service reporter Mary Engel and photographer Robert Hood are in Durban, South Africa, covering the news from the 21st International AIDS Conference.

The ring is lightweight, flexible, affordable and innocuous looking. It can be worn — and forgotten about — for four weeks at a time. And when used correctly, it can protect women against HIV.

New analyses released Monday from a large, Phase 3 clinical trial conducted in several African countries further bolster the study’s previous findings that the vaginal ring, laced with an antiviral drug known as dapivirine, can effectively protect women from HIV infection.

The research study, called ASPIRE, enrolled 2,629 sexually active, HIV-negative women in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda. The women were asked to use either the dapivirine ring or a placebo ring, changed every 28 days; the researchers followed them for one or more years with follow-up visits every month. The study’s initial results, published in February in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the antiviral ring worked to protect against HIV — if it’s used correctly.

The women who used the dapivirine ring had, overall, a 27 percent reduction in HIV infection. But there were already hints in that first study that many women weren’t using the ring consistently, and that those who used it more reliably were better protected against the virus.

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Two parents, two sons named Justin, one cause

The mother of Seahawks' Justin Britt teamed up with a grieving father to learn about promising new research that could help others

July 15, 2016 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Adam Lazara and Kelly Britt embrace on the rooftop deck of the Arnold Building

Adam Lazara and Kelly Britt share a hug on the rooftop deck of the Robert M. Arnold Building during their tour of Fred Hutch on Tuesday, July 12. Dr. Jim Olson is in the background.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

On the day of their visit to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, a proud mother and a grieving father met one another for the first time, strangers connected by a football team, a name and a desire to raise awareness about cancer.

It was their sons, both named Justin, who brought them together.

Kelly Britt’s 25-year-old Justin will likely start this September as center for the Seattle Seahawks. It’s his third year as a professional football player. He played first as a tackle, then as a guard for the perennial Super Bowl contenders.

Adam Lazara’s son, Justin, was an avid Seahawks fan. But just 12 days ago, after a nearly year-long battle with a brain tumor, he passed away at his home in Auburn, Washington. Saturday would have been his fourth birthday.

Adam saw in his July 12 visit to Fred Hutch a way to strike back at the disease. “As someone touched by cancer, I feel I have a responsibility to do my part, to raise funds, to raise awareness,” he said.

His son’s battle with cancer had also struck a chord with Seahawks stars. Quarterback Russell Wilson twice visited young Justin at his Seattle Children’s hospital bedside. In one of his last outings before he died, Justin visited the Seahawks training camp where he had a 10-minute chat with coach Pete Carroll. “It was so gracious of him of talk to Justin,” Lazara said. “He knew that he wasn’t going to make it.”

Little Justin Lazara and big Justin Britt never met, but when the two parents arrived at Fred Hutch, a cancer center named after a sports hero, they felt a strange symmetry at work.

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