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Toys to totems: Sacred artifacts keep lost loved ones close

Precious playthings of brain cancer patients inspire artful glass replicas

Oct. 8, 2015 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Nikki Austin with her son Matthew's favorite toy. The horse inspired glass art in Matthew's memory.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service; Photo of glass art by Duncan Price

After death, the mementos left behind are never enough. And yet they are everything.

The precious possessions of loved ones lost often serve as a final, tangible connection, forever binding the grieving to the departed. They become fiercely guarded keepsakes. Or sacred artifacts placed on display. Or both.  

For Libby Kranz, mother of Jennifer, the connection to her daughter is a sparkly piece of costume jewelry. For Nikki Austin, mother of Matthew, it’s a stuffed horse. For Cammy Singh, mother of Rohan, it’s a Lego flying machine. And all three items – Jennifer’s ring, Matthew’s horse and Rohan’s spaceship – now will inspire fresh hope via art.

On Saturday, blown-glass replicas of these “healing objects” will be unveiled at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center during the annual “Light Up the Night” fundraiser. The event supports Project Violet, which discovers effective, new drugs for cancers and rare diseases.

Artist Shirley Klinghoffer and collaborators at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma painstakingly crafted the pieces.

All three of those children died from brain tumors. Two of the kids – Matthew, 11, and Rohan, 7 – were treated by Dr. Jim Olson’s team. Jennifer, 6, was treated near her home in California.

"The words, ‘pediatric cancer’ make most people raise an emotional wall. So how do we engage the public in this very important problem? Through art,” Olson said. “These gorgeous pieces of Shirley Klinghoffer’s create an opportunity for people to get close to our community in a safe and beautiful way."

Klinghoffer, a contemporary artist whose work often deals with themes of vulnerability and strength, added: “It represents a way to show how something that may start out with an unwanted reality can then bring solace. And [how it can] can bring some kind of a relief to the families to let them know that their children’s stories live on.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Oct. 8, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Garnet Anderson

Dr. Garnet Anderson

Photo by Stefanie Felix for Fred Hutch

Public Health Sciences Director Dr. Garnet Anderson among 2015 Puget Sound Business Journal Women of Influence

Puget Sound Business Journal has named Dr. Garnet Anderson, senior vice president and director of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, among its 2015 Women of Influence. She is among 15 honorees who will receive recognition at an award ceremony at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue on Nov. 18.

The Women of Influence Awards, now in its 12th year, shines a spotlight on local businesswomen, community leaders and philanthropists who, according to the business journal, are a force in the region and “have the power and authority to move the needle” in their field.

Click here to view the list of this year’s honorees and here for more about the award ceremony.

Anderson’s work has had a significant impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

She co-led the nationwide Women’s Health Initiative study that in 2002 found that combined hormone-replacement therapy, or HRT, for menopausal symptoms was not the fountain of youth it was touted to be. While it helped women combat hot flashes, bone loss and other menopause symptoms, it did so at a cost. The study found HRT also significantly raised a woman’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke and breast cancer.

The landmark findings by Anderson and colleagues triggered a 50 percent decline in the use of HRT, which has resulted in 15,000 to 20,000 fewer cases of breast cancer each year in the U.S. Worldwide, the decreased use of HRT has resulted in additional reductions in breast cancer incidence by tens of thousands of cases per year.

The study also has had a significant economic impact; while the federally funded clinical trial cost $260 million (in 2012 dollars), the net economic return was more than $37 billion. That’s a return of approximately $140 on every dollar invested in the trial, according to an analysis by Anderson and her health economist colleagues in the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

More important, the findings sparked a sea change in women’s health. Anderson and colleagues estimate that in the decade following the trial, approximately 4.3 million women have stopped taking HRT, resulting in 126,000 fewer breast cancer cases, 76,000 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 80,000 fewer cases of venous thromboembolism (potentially deadly blood clots).

In addition to women’s health, Anderson’s research interests and areas of expertise include the design, analysis and conduct of randomized clinical trials, considered the “gold standard” of biomedical research, biostatistics, prevention of chronic disease, and ovarian cancer screening and risk.

Anderson has been on the Public Health Sciences Division faculty since 1989 and has served as its director since 2013. She also is an affiliate professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Other Fred Hutch faculty and staff named Women of Influence include Dr. Julie McElrath, senior vice president and director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division (2013) and Myra Tanita, chief operating officer (2011).

Dr. Paul Martin

Dr. Paul Martin

Fred Hutch file

Dr. Paul Martin appointed AACI-CRI Steering Committee chair

Dr. Paul Martin of the Fred Hutch Clinical Research Division has been appointed the new chair of the Association of American Cancer Institutes Clinical Research Initiative Steering Committee.

AACI's CRI provides a forum for clinical research leaders to share information and to advocate for improving the national clinical trials enterprise. CRI objectives include developing better methods to disseminate information across cancer centers, identifying clinical research challenges, and sharing proven means of addressing challenges and measuring progress. The CRI program aligns with AACI's strategic goal to stimulate interactions among cancer centers in order to maximize the use of resources and to facilitate research. The individuals involved in CRI fill a variety of leadership roles and possess a comprehensive understanding of their center's entire clinical trials system.

Martin is medical director of Clinical Research Support at Fred Hutch. He has served on the AACI-CRI Steering Committee since November 2013, and his two-year term as chair began Sept. 1.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray: A candid chat on guns, homelessness and diversity

A wide-ranging Q&A session at Fred Hutch spans mayor's views and values

Oct. 7, 2015 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray addresses a packed house in the Pelton Auditorium on the Fred Hutch campus on Oct. 7, 2015. He spoke to the Hutch Diversity Council forum about politics, leadership and LGBT issues.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, during a visit to the city’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said gun violence and homelessness are the two most intractable issues facing him today. To tackle them successfully requires a shift in culture ― easier said than done and, most often, not done at all.

He pointed to public-health approaches to homelessness and drug abuse as the most viable remedy for these deeply rooted social problems. That would mean, for instance, coming to grips with a heroin epidemic in the Northwest “the likes of which we haven’t seen since the '60s.” Yet he noted that social service programs to curb illegal drug use and address mental health are starved for funds.

Gun violence, too, he likened to an epidemic with no politically palatable treatment in sight. “There is bipartisan support to do nothing to change our gun laws,” said the mayor, an active proponent of gun control measures that have gained no traction.“When the culture changes, the politics change,” he said, but on matters involving gun violence, “we’re pretty stuck.”

Murray said he continues to look for ways to reduce the availability of high-powered weaponry. “I grew up hunting. My uncles had guns. But they were hunting rifles, not semiautomatics.” While he sees no prospects for gun control legislation, he said the city is looking to leverage its potential clout with gun-makers as a buyer of ammunition for local law enforcement. That strategy is being tried in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

Murray was invited to speak to research center staff in Pelton Auditorium by the Hutch Diversity Council, an organization that promotes diversity in hiring and holds frequent seminars on related issues within the region.

“Diversity is intentional,” the mayor said, noting that while liberal Seattle generally respects diversity in principle, implementing wholesale change toward a more-diverse workforce is another matter. 

Murray, while discussing his cabinet, said that may have meant letting white, male city appointees go, and hiring women, racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians. “This is the most conservative liberal city in America. We want diversity, but we don’t want to change anything,” he said.

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Scratching the surface of a rare skin cancer

Immune-boosting therapy shows promise for advanced Merkel cell carcinoma

Oct. 6, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Drs. Paul Nghiem and Erica Shantha

Skin cancer researchers Drs. Paul Nghiem and Erica Shantha discuss a sample of a rare skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma. Nghiem leads a clinical trial for patients with advanced stages of the disease that is showing promising early results.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Paul Nghiem originally had no interest in specializing in an extremely rare cancer.

In 2000, when Nghiem was a newly-minted dermatology resident working in Boston, he had seen exactly one patient with the skin cancer, known as Merkel cell carcinoma. But the disease was (and is) so uncommon — afflicting only 1,500 people per year in the U.S. — that Nghiem’s senior professor talked him into writing a textbook chapter on the cancer based on that sole patient encounter.

A resident who’d seen one patient “was somebody who knew a lot about it, compared to most [doctors],” said Nghiem. “I’m obviously making a joke, because I knew virtually nothing.”

In the 15 years since, Nghiem has thrown himself into everything Merkel cell, developing a career as a skin cancer researcher at the University of Washington (where he recently became head of the dermatology department) and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as well as seeing patients with skin cancers at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Now, his clinical and research team’s efforts are starting to pay off.

At the European Cancer Congress held in late September in Vienna, Nghiem presented promising, early results from a clinical trial he leads based at seven sites around the U.S. testing an immunotherapy drug known as pembrolizumab (brand-name Keytruda) for patients with advanced Merkel cell carcinoma.

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First HIV, then cancer

As people with HIV live longer, they are developing cancers at higher rates than the general population

Oct. 5, 2015 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Bill Hall

Bill Hall has lived with HIV since 1986. Seven years ago, he learned he also has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Bill Hall had seen the grim photos in newspapers and magazines of gay men dying of AIDS. So when he tested positive for HIV in June 1986, he assumed he had been sentenced to death.

The next 10 years were a blur of visiting friends in the hospital and going to funerals. Hall outlived the members of four support groups. Then he began taking first the drug AZT and, after 1996, an antiretroviral cocktail that kept the virus in check.

He survived.

One day about seven years ago – after more than a decade on treatment – Hall was brushing his teeth in his Seattle apartment and saw a lot of blood in the sink. He went to the dental clinic at Harborview Medical Center, where the dentist took a biopsy of an abscess in his lower gum.

A few weeks later, he had a new diagnosis: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I just sat there and zoned out. I don’t even remember walking home,” said Hall, now 62, recalling his shock at being handed what he thought was a second death sentence. “It was like when I found out I was HIV-positive.”

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'Every step was for them'

Over 1,200 climb the Space Needle to raise crucial research funds for Fred Hutch

Oct. 5, 2015 | By Megan Herndon / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Maika D'Ambrosi with Fred Hutch's Dr. Jonathan Bricker

Psychologist Dr. Maika D'Ambrosi, left, and Fred Hutch's Dr. Jonathan Bricker enjoy the view after finishing the inaugural climb to the top of the Space Needle to raise money for cancer research.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer survivors, community members and other supporters of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center ascended 832 steps for cancer research this Saturday at the inaugural Base 2 Space Climb.

For the first time ever, the open-air staircase to the top of the iconic Seattle landmark was opened to the public, offering climbers a panoramic view of the city as they spiraled up 52 stories in brilliant October sunshine.

Dave Mandapat, the Space Needle’s director of public relations, said the organization wants the Needle, built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, to be more than a hometown icon: they want to be a neighbor and community partner. Toward that end, they chose Fred Hutch to support with their inaugural climb because it is a local organization with global impact.

“Fred Hutch is doing amazing things on not only a local scale but also on an international scale,” he said. “[Supporting] a local organization that's doing amazing things for all of mankind was important to us.”

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