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Lab advance brings a closer look at cancer in Africa

Live cancer cells travel 8,800 miles for deep analyses in Seattle

Oct. 23, 2018 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Kaposi sarcoma clinic in Kampala, Uganda

A Kaposi sarcoma patient, Sarah Nabaggaia (right), undergoes treatment at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, laboratory project manager Andrea Towlerton took in a breath and peered through the twin lenses of her microscope.

On that July morning, more than two years of careful planning and hard work were at stake. She focused on a tiny droplet of liquid gingerly pipetted onto a glass slide. “It was either going to be great, or not,” she recalled.

Towlerton knew she could be looking at a landscape of dead cells, one that would send her entire team back to the drawing board.

Quickly, she had her answer. “I have to admit I almost started crying,” she said. “I saw those big, beautiful cells were alive.”

That microscopic beauty is deceptive. These cells came from a sample of Kaposi sarcoma, or KS — a disfiguring cancer that often involves the skin, lymph nodes and other organs. They had been drawn from a tumor on a patient treated 8,800 miles away in Kampala, Uganda, where KS is a leading cause of cancer death.

Yet because Towlerton’s teammates in the U.S. and Uganda had successfully brought these cells alive to Seattle, it was now possible for Hutch scientists to analyze cancers in Africa with the same depth and detail as cancers in the United States.

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Researchers identify new way skin stops tumor growth

‘Oncogene-induced differentiation’ joins two other strategies for counteracting potentially cancer-causing DNA changes

Oct. 22, 2018 | by Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Three doors, three anti-tumor choices

Hutch scientists have discovered a third anti-tumor strategy, called oncogene-induced differentiation, that cells can use to stop tumor formation.

Image by Kim Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer is so closely associated with DNA mutations that it seems almost inevitable that such changes must lead to cancer. But a square inch of skin can harbor tens of thousands of DNA changes and yet be tumor-free. How?

Cells, as it happens, aren’t passive victims of DNA damage. When faced with what could be cancer-causing DNA alterations, some cells sacrifice themselves. Others turn off their ability to divide. And there’s a third way, just discovered by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: they get specialized.

Skin is continually undergoing a cycle of shedding and creation of new skin. This process is sustained by skin stem cells, which balance two functions: creation of new specialized skin cells and renewal of themselves to ensure a never-ending source of new skin cells. In work published today in Nature Cell Biology, Hutch researchers show that skin stem cells in mice respond to what ought to have been a cancer-causing mutation by opting to differentiate, or specialize, instead of renewing themselves. Because differentiated skin cells eventually slough off, the strategy appears to allow skin to jettison dangerous mutations without disrupting its function.

“We’ve been uncovering ways that tissues ensure their function and health long term, despite getting these [cancer-associated] mutations,” said senior author Dr. Slobodan Beronja, who studies the genes and molecular pathways that underlie cancer. The new mechanism the team discovered for preventing a mutated cell from becoming cancerous “just sort of nudges it gently out of the tissue using a physiological process of differentiation,” he said.

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Researchers ‘shocked’ to see how often experts misdiagnose certain brain tumors in kids

New study: Molecular tests reveal critical differences in cancers thought to be the same, highlight implications for treatment

Oct. 19, 2018 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Two side-by-side, similar-looking microscopic images of cells stained a blue color.

Based on these microscopic images, shown here side by side, both of these pediatric brain cancers would have been diagnosed as CNS-PNET. But molecular tests revealed that the one on the left is glioblastoma, and the one on the right is a supratentorial embryonic tumor. The two cancers have vastly different prognoses and treatment strategies.

Images courtesy of Dr. Bonnie Cole / Seattle Children’s Hospital

Traditional methods of diagnosing certain brain cancers in children are deeply flawed, a new study shows. As a result, some children with these particular rare tumors have been getting the wrong diagnoses and, in some cases, the wrong treatment, the researchers say.

The errors were only revealed with the help of new tests that can look at tumor cells’ molecular profiles, said lead scientist Dr. Jim Olson of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He urged his fellow pediatric brain cancer specialists to use such tests to diagnose their young patients to help make sure they receive optimal care. And families of young brain cancer patients, he said, should insist on the tests, which are called DNA methylation profiling.

“The biggest thing coming out of this is that we really need to do genomic analyses at the time of diagnosis for kids with brain tumors,” Olson said. “Tumors that can look exactly alike under a microscope can have very different biology and require entirely different forms of treatment.”

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Dr. Joachim Deeg named Miklos Kohary and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary Endowed Chair for Cancer Research

Endowment will support future research for myelodysplastic syndromes

Oct. 18, 2018 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Benefactors Miklos Kohary and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary joke with Dr. Joachim Deeg during his Oct. 15 endowed chair reception at Fred Hutch.

Benefactors Miklos Kohary and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary chat with Dr. Joachim Deeg (left) during his Oct. 15 endowed chair reception at Fred Hutch.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Miklos Kohary had only met with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center physician-scientist Dr. Joachim Deeg a few times when he asked Deeg a key question:

“I asked him, do you believe in the power of the mind?” Kohary recalled at the Oct. 15 evening reception at Fred Hutch at which Deeg was named the first Miklos Kohary and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary Endowed Chair for Cancer Research.

“You don’t always know how a physician will respond,” said Kohary, who was seeing Deeg for myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a precancerous disease of the bone marrow. He was facing MDS at the same time as metastatic prostate cancer. “But he said, ‘Absolutely.’ … I told him, together, we’re going to make history.”

Kohary, a Ferrari enthusiast and former professional soccer player, along with his wife, established the endowed chair “Because I believe in my physician … It wasn’t an easy road — it still isn’t. But I’m going to get to the end of it.”

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Dr. Stephanie Lee honored as new Giuliani/Press Endowed Chair recipient

The honor will support Lee in perpetuity as she continues her research on blood stem cell transplantation and chronic GVHD

Oct. 17, 2018 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Endowed chair recipient Dr. Stephanie Lee is flanked by benefactors Patricia and David Giuliani.

Endowed chair recipient Dr. Stephanie Lee is flanked by benefactors Patricia and David Giuliani at the Oct. 12 reception in her honor at Fred Hutch.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch physician-scientist Dr. Stephanie Lee was honored at an Oct. 12 ceremony as the second recipient of the David and Patricia Giuliani/Oliver Press Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. The honor will help support Lee in perpetuity as she continues her research on blood stem cell transplantation and chronic graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD.

“Receiving the chair means so much because of Ollie,” said Lee referring to her predecessor, the late Dr. Oliver Press, at the ceremony held on the Hutch campus. “Everything he did, he did super well, he did it with heart, he did it with meaning, and it mattered. … I’m going try my best to live up to that. And a special thanks to David and to Patricia, incredibly generous people.”

The gathering of research colleagues and family members of Lee and Press, and benefactors David and Patricia Giuliani, was both joyous and bittersweet, noted Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland.

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Forecasting the shape of flu viruses to come

‘Deep mutational scanning’ to make a better flu vaccine

Oct. 16, 2018 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch graduate student Juhye Lee

Fred Hutch graduate student Juhye Lee at work in the Bloom Lab's tissue culture room.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

As millions of Americans line up for their annual flu shots this fall, scientists around the globe are already planning for the next round. How can they change next year’s vaccines to stop the strains of influenza most likely to emerge in 2019?

The effort to pick new vaccines to block ever-evolving flu viruses requires both science and serendipity. Because it takes so long to manufacture the millions of doses required, world flu experts meet twice a year — six months in advance of flu season for the Northern and Southern hemispheres — to pick the best possible match of vaccine to virus. It is high-stakes, educated guesswork.

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, a team of scientists led by Drs. Jesse Bloom and Trevor Bedford is working to take some of the guesswork out of the process. The team is doing so via a deep analysis of the constant evolutionary changes in the flu virus and by building computer models to anticipate influenza’s next tricky move — like the way weather forecasters use computers to plot the most likely paths of hurricanes.

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