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Dr. Sue Biggins elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Biologist is ninth Hutch researcher to join one of the nation's oldest learned societies

April 18, 2018 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Sue Biggins

Dr. Sue Biggins

Photo by Ron Wurzer for HHMI

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences today announced its 238th class of new members. Among them is Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center biologist Dr. Sue Biggins, a basic scientist who studies the mechanisms of cell division.

Biggins, who is also associate director of the Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, studies the kinetochore, a large protein machine that distributes chromosomes to each of two daughter cells during division. She led the team which, for the first time, isolated the kinetochore from cells to study its function in test tubes.

That accomplishment allowed Biggins’ laboratory team to make further discoveries about how the kinetochore works, including the perhaps counterintuitive finding that the protein complexes rely on tension to do their jobs correctly. Kinetochores move chromosomes by attaching to protein tubes known as microtubules, which guide chromosomes to the daughter cells as the mother cell divides in two. Her team found that tension helps the kinetochore stay attached to the microtubule while it moves into the daughter cell.

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'Just let me get him through high school'

Pamela Mushen — cancer survivor and determined mom, teacher — to be honored by Fred Hutch and Mariners

April 18, 2018 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Pam Mushen and her son Jeffery

Pamela Mushen and her youngest son, Jeffery, during her 1997 treatment for breast cancer.

Photo courtesy of Pamela Mushen

Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2018 Major League Baseball season, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Mariners are recognizing “Hutch Heroes,” individuals who face cancer with the same determination and spirit as our center’s namesake, Seattle baseball legend Fred Hutchinson. We are proud to share more about one of our featured Hutch Heroes here, and we invite you to show your support for them — and help fuel discoveries that can start cures — by donating to Fred Hutch.

When Pamela Mushen was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer on Christmas Eve of 1996, her first thought was that she had to get her youngest boy, Jeffery, then 12, through high school.

“You kind of become a different person if your mom dies at that age,” Mushen said. “My deal was, ‘Just let me get him through high school. Let me get him formed.’”

That resolve helped Mushen get through a lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy and a grueling, experimental stem cell transplant.

Today Jeffery, who will turn 34 next month, has a child of his own — Mushen’s first granddaughter. And she has five lively grandsons from her two older boys, twins Jesse and Jeremiah.

“I feel very blessed,” Mushen said.

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First human antibody found to block Epstein-Barr virus

Early research could open new path for vaccine against EBV-related cancers, mononucleosis

April 17, 2018 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of Dr. Andy McGuire

Dr. Andrew McGuire began searching for antibodies to Epstein-Barr virus using lessons learned from HIV research.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington have discovered a human antibody that in laboratory tests blocks infection by the Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV.

The finding of the antibody — along with the site it targets — opens a new path to developing an effective vaccine against a virus best known in the United States for causing mononucleosis, or mono, but which is globally associated with about 200,000 cancer cases a year, including some Burkitt and Hodgkin lymphomas, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and stomach and nasopharyngeal cancers. EBV infection also may activate genes associated with autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Andrew McGuire of Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division is the senior author of the paper published today in the journal Immunity. He initiated the study after working on human antibodies against HIV and deciding to apply some of what has been learned there to a different virus. The antibody he found, known as AMM01, is the first human antibody shown to block EBV infection in cells in the lab. Prior to this study, only mouse antibodies had been identified against the virus.

“The idea was to apply some of the approaches that have revolutionized the HIV vaccine development field in the past 10 years,” McGuire said, including discovering the antibodies people make to HIV and studying them in the lab to see how they interact with the virus.

And then, McGuire added, “you think about how you can use that information to design better vaccines.”

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‘Article of the Year’ nod to demo of machine learning for personalized medicine

Computer-generated algorithms could guide prevention, treatment of transplant complication, researchers showed

April 17, 2018 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Elizabeth Krakow

Dr. Elizabeth Krakow

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

In its April issue, the American Journal of Epidemiology recognized a paper by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center faculty member Dr. Elizabeth Krakow as one of its 10 best articles published in 2017. Each spring, the editors of AJE select the top 10 articles published by the journal in the previous year that represent “the best in the field,” according to the journal’s announcement.

Besides Krakow’s article, fellow top-10s include research on hysterectomy and subsequent diabetes, exposures to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones, and alcohol use in the military.

In their winning paper, Krakow and colleagues show how a machine learning-based method for mining historical data could inform therapeutic choices, such as for preventing and treating a common complication of bone marrow transplant in an individual patient.

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Immunotherapy strategy for ovarian cancer aims to rewire a ‘kill switch’ to ramp-up signal

T cells bearing a new engineered protein boost immunotherapy’s effectiveness in laboratory models of AML, ovarian, pancreatic cancers

April 16, 2018 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Kristin Anderson in front of a lab bench in the Greenberg lab at Fred Hutch

Dr. Kristin Anderson, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Greenberg lab at Fred Hutch, is working on ways to make immunotherapy more effective for solid tumors such as ovarian cancer.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Solid tumors like breast and lung cancer, by their nature, construct all kinds of barriers to an effective immunotherapy.

Dr. Kristin Anderson, a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who works on a type of immunotherapy known as T-cell therapy, and her colleagues have been steadily working on identifying and overcoming those barriers. Some of these tumors’ roadblocks include cancer cells sneakily masking themselves from recognition by engineered immune cells or sending out signals that cause the therapeutic T cells to commit suicide before they can do their job.

As compared to blood cancers, “there are many additional features in solid tumors that give immunotherapy a higher bar to cross,” Anderson said. That’s one of the major reasons progress in T-cell therapy is further along for blood cancers than for many solid tumors.

Anderson and her Fred Hutch colleague Dr. Shannon Oda, both of them postdoctoral research fellows working in the immunotherapy lab of Dr. Phil Greenberg, are developing new ways to outsmart these cellular cheaters.

Their latest, developed by Oda and tested in ovarian cancer mouse and cell studies in the lab by Anderson: A new type of hybrid protein that, when added to T-cell therapy, tells the engineered immune cells to ramp up their activity in response to what is normally a death signal.

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How does leukemia escape from immunotherapy?

New tech enables deep dive into mysterious results, sets stage for future improvements

April 16, 2018 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Kelly Paulson points out something on a lab computer screen to Dr. Thomas Schmitt

Drs. Kelly Paulson and Thomas Schmitt deeply analyzed patient samples to learn how an aggressive leukemia can wriggle its way free of targeted attack by a high-tech experimental immunotherapy.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

When an experimental new cancer treatment shows promising results for many patients, these successes are exciting. But cancer researcher Dr. Kelly Paulson says that the most important insights — those that will lead to better therapies for even more patients — come from studying the failures.

A new study by Paulson and colleagues does just that, highlighting one way that an aggressive leukemia can wriggle its way free of targeted attack by a high-tech strategy for immune-based therapy. With these insights in hand, the researchers say, they’re already making progress on what they hope will be an improved version of the experimental therapy that will help more people in the future.  

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