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The right tools for the job: taking immunotherapy to the next level

Dr. Matthias Stephan is combining the fields of immunology, bioengineering and gene therapy to harness the immune system to treat solid tumors

May 22, 2015 | By Dr. Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Matthias Stephan

Dr. Matthias Stephan has developed a way to make cell-based immunotherapy as effective against solid tumors as it has been against blood cancers such as leukemia.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Research usually advances by inches forward, not leaps. Epiphanies that open new avenues of investigation are relatively rare. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Dr. Matthias Stephan experienced just such a flash of insight in the dark early hours of a Sunday morning several years ago. As several threads of knowledge coalesced into a unified idea, Stephan realized how, with a single device, he could bring the power of the immune system to bear against solid tumors like breast cancer.

Stephan is a pioneer in the field of immunobioengineering, working where “materials science meets immunology” to create unconventional solutions to treating cancer. Drawing from gene therapy, bioengineering and immunotherapy, Stephan is pinpointing the best tools in each discipline and finding new ways to combine them. In doing so, he is devising inventive strategies to circumvent the hurdles that prevent immunotherapy from being cost-effective, widely available and effective against many types of cancer.

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Singing, dancing, dignitaries mark opening of UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre

Uganda's President Museveni tours, speaks at event marking joyful milestone in decade-long alliance

May 21, 2015 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dancers at UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre opening

African dancers perform at the opening ceremony of the UCI – Fred Hutch Cancer Center on May 21, 2015 in Kampala, Uganda.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

KAMPALA, Uganda – With dancers from every corner of Uganda and speeches by dignitaries including President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the Uganda Cancer Institute, or UCI, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Thursday celebrated the opening of a new, state-of-the-art home for their decade-long alliance.

The UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre for the first time brings all of the alliance’s work under one roof, accommodating 20,000 outpatient visits a year as well as housing laboratories for research and rooms for training and conferences. It is the first comprehensive cancer center jointly built by U.S. and African cancer institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

“What started as a conversation among a few people has grown into a grand vision,” said UCI Director Dr. Jackson Orem, who is co-director of the UCI-Fred Hutch alliance, along with Dr. Corey Casper, director of Fred Hutch’s Global Oncology Program.

“I am certain that we are doing something extraordinary,” said Casper. “The challenge is great for us, but the opportunities are much greater.”

With a brick exterior that matches the buildings at Fred Hutch’s Seattle headquarters, the three-story, 25,000-square-foot building rises on the edge of the UCI’s Kampala campus, next to a jumble of low-slung, stucco-walled structures that have served as Uganda’s only cancer treatment center since 1967.

Completing the transformation, the Ugandan government recently opened a new in-patient hospital just up the hill. It began moving in pediatric patients two months ago in a phased opening.

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Researchers discover tumor molecule that causes spread of pancreatic cancer

Testing could help guide treatment

May 21, 2015 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

An illustration of a traffic cop

Fred Hutch researchers have found that a tumor molecule called RUNX3 acts like a traffic cop of sorts, determining whether pancreatic cancer cells will spread, or metastasize, to distant parts of the body or whether they will stay put.

Illustration by Kim Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

A single molecule switches on metastasis, or spread, in pancreas cancers, reports new research led by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The researchers predict that testing for this molecule, called RUNX3, could soon help oncologists choose the most appropriate treatments based on the metastatic potential of each patient’s disease.

“We’re defining a readout that may help doctors in their approach to treatment of patients who have pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Martin “Marty” Whittle, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Sunil Hingorani and first author on the paper, which was published online today in the journal Cell. “The gene that we identified can be used to give some insight as to whether a patient’s tumor is more likely to grow locally or metastasize.”

RUNX3, the researchers found, controls the activation of numerous genes involved in metastasis in a mouse model, triggering cancer cells to migrate to other parts of the body and turning on genes that help those metastatic cells take root and thrive once they invade distant tissues.

“It’s extraordinary — it seems to control an entire metastatic program,” said Hingorani, the senior researcher on the study and a physician-scientist at Fred Hutch who specializes in pancreatic cancer. “RUNX3 serves to both expel the seed and prepare the soil.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Dr. Jean Sanders named volunteer of the year; Desert Horse-Grant a 'woman to watch in life science'; study by Dr. Jihong Bai sheds new light on how neurons communicate; Hutch design team wins five awards

May 21, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Jean Sanders

Dr. Jean Sanders (seated) with friend Jennifer Aspelund (left), the mother of one of Sanders' former transplant patients; and Karen and Jamie Moyer, the founders of The Moyer Foundation, at Tuesday's luncheon.

By Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Jean Sanders named 2015 Rosi Palmer Volunteer of the Year by The Moyer Foundation

On May 19, pediatric bone marrow transplant pioneer Dr. Jean Sanders was honored with the 2015 Rosi Palmer Volunteer of the Year Award at The Moyer Foundation’s annual Champions for Children Luncheon.

Sanders, who retired from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's active faculty in 2012, had a 37-year career in pediatric transplant research and patient care, and her work shaped the treatment of childhood transplant patients around the world.

Sanders is also an expert quilter, and she has made 40 quilts over the past two years for children attending the foundation’s Camp Mariposa in Washington state. This free, overnight weekend camp serves children affected by substance-use disorders in their family.

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'The people make us shine': Fred Hutch-UCI building poised to open, but staff is the heart

As the new Fred Hutch-UCI cancer center is poised to open in Uganda, the focus is on those within its walls

May 20, 2015 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Sister Allen Naamala Mayanja

Sister Allen Naamala Mayanja, the UCI's head nurse, at a town hall meeting the day before the grand opening of the new UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Editor's note: Fred Hutch News Service writer Mary Engel and photographer Robert Hood were in Uganda for the May 21 grand opening of the UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre. To read more of Mary and Robert's stories from Uganda, please click here.

KAMPALA, UGANDA – On the day before the opening of the first comprehensive cancer center jointly constructed by U.S. and African institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, leaders of both the Uganda Cancer Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center were clear about one thing:

It’s not just about a building.

Of course, everyone is thrilled about the three-story, 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility. But the celebration planned for Thursday is really about the decade-long alliance between the UCI and Fred Hutch that made the building – and more importantly, the work that the partners have already done and will continue to do – possible.

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The quest for care: Ugandan cancer patients face huge transportation obstacles

Fred Hutch and the Uganda Cancer Institute are aiming to help patients more easily get to the care they need

May 19, 2015 | By Mary Engel and Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch’s Mary Engel and Robert Hood report on the challenges patients face getting to treatment -- and what Fred Hutch and the Uganda Cancer Institute are doing about it.


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