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Good News at Fred Hutch

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April 23, 2015
Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem is a stem cell and gene therapy researcher at Fred Hutch.

Fred Hutch file

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem co-PI on $12.6M grant to study stem cell therapy for HIV

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem is the co-principal investigator for a new, $12.6 million grant over five years from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – a division of the National Institutes of Health – to research next-generation hematopoietic stem cell gene therapy for HIV control and eradication.

A stem cell transplant researcher in the Clinical Research Division, Kiem is co-director of the Fred Hutch-based defeatHIV, a public-private consortium of researchers investigating the use of genetically modified stem cells to cure HIV.

Also co-principal investigator on the new project is Dr. Paula Cannon, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, pediatrics, biochemistry and molecular biology at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and a member of the defeatHIV consortium.

“As the title [of the new project] says, it really gets into the next-generation gene editing but also into studying the role and mechanism of allogeneic transplantation in HIV eradication,” Kiem said.

To date, only one person in the world has been cured of HIV – Timothy Ray Brown, also known as “the Berlin patient” after the city in which he was treated. The Seattle-born Brown received a stem cell transplant in Germany in 2007 to treat acute myeloid leukemia. His German doctor decided to try to also cure Brown’s HIV infection by finding a stem cell donor who carried two copies of a rare gene mutation that protects against HIV infection.

Using Brown’s case as a blueprint, defeatHIV plans to take an HIV-infected patient’s own stem cells and knock out or disable the gene that acts as the HIV doorway, and then return the modified cells to the patient. Researchers elsewhere are looking at similar therapies that involve genetically modified T cells rather than stem cells.

Researchers are still trying to tease out which of several factors, independently or in combination, contributed to Brown’s cure. Before his transplant, he underwent conditioning, in which his own bone marrow was destroyed by intensive chemotherapy and whole-body irradiation. His doctor then used a marrow donor with the protective gene mutation. Additionally, any remaining HIV-infected cells may have been attacked by his new immune system, a process known as graft-vs.-host disease that plays a role in curing leukemia.

These are the questions that Kiem and Cannon will address in their new project, which is funded until 2020.

Dr. D. Gary Gilliland

Dr. Gary Gilliland is president and director of Fred Hutch.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Gary Gilliland a finalist for ‘Hire of the Year Award’ sponsored by GeekWire

Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a noted expert in cancer genetics and precision oncology, has been selected as one of five finalists in the “Hire of the Year” category for the upcoming 2015 GeekWire Awards.

Community online voting for the Hire of the Year Award will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, April 27; click here to cast your vote for Gilliland and rally others to vote for this special award, which recognizes top new hires in the technology, research and science industries. Tweets, Facebook and blog posts are encouraged. Hashtag: #gwawards.

Also in the running for a GeekWire honor is Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at Fred Hutch who studies acceptance and commitment therapy to help people quit smoking and other unhealthy behaviors. He is one of five finalists for the prestigious "Geek of the Year Award." Click here to cast your vote for Bricker.

Voting for the seventh annual Geekwire Awards, which are offered in more than a dozen categories, goes through April 29. The awardees will be honored at a ceremony May 7 at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

Dr. Stephen Schwartz

Dr. Stephen Schwartz is an epidemiologist in Fred Hutch's Public Health Sciences Division.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Study finds link between muscle-building supplements and testicular cancer

Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center contributed to a recent study that found an association between taking muscle-building supplements and an increased risk of testicular cancer.

The findings of the study, led by researchers at Yale and Harvard universities and published last week in the British Journal of Cancer, represent the first analytical epidemiological study of the possible link between body-building supplements and testicular cancer. The work was inspired by mounting evidence that at least some supplement ingredients, such as pills and powders containing creatine or androstenedione, may damage the testes.

“Since some muscle-building supplements contain androgens as well as other compounds that could lead to damaged testes, it seemed reasonable to hypothesize that use of these products might influence the risk of testicular germ-cell tumors,” said study co-author Dr. Stephen Schwartz, an epidemiologist in the Fred Hutch Public Health Sciences Division.

Schwartz and colleagues found men who used such supplements were more likely to have developed testicular cancer than those who did not, especially if they started before age 25, took more than one supplement or used the supplements for three or more years.

To conduct the study, senior author Dr. Tongzhang Zheng of Brown University School of Public Health (who initiated the research while at Yale University) conducted detailed interviews with nearly 900 men, 356 of whom had been diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer and 513 who had not. The men were asked about supplement use and other possible cancer risk factors such as smoking, drinking, physical activity, family history of testicular cancer and prior injury to the testes or groin.

After accounting for such possible confounding risk factors, the researchers found that men who used muscle-building supplements had a 65 percent greater risk of having developed testicular cancer compared to men who did not use such supplements. Among those who used more than one kind of supplement, the increased risk jumped to 177 percent, and among those who used such supplements for three years or more, the risk increased to 156 percent.

“I have to admit that I was surprised at the results of the analysis,” said Schwartz, who, along with co-author Dr. Chu Chen, also of the Public Health Sciences Division, provided extensive consultation on the study’s subject recruitment and data-collection process. However, he cautioned, since this is the first study to test the hypothesis behind muscle-building supplements and testicular cancer risk, and since a biological basis for the observed association is unknown, “it is important not to attach too much importance to the results,” he said.

“Future large epidemiologic studies and lab experiments would be necessary to establish a causal link between supplements and testicular cancer,” according to a Brown University statement.

The National Institutes of Health, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, The Beijing Natural Science Foundation and the Beijing Nova Program funded the research.

Dr. Andrew Hsieh

Dr. Andrew Hsieh is a researcher in the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutch.

Photo by Quinn Brown for Fred Hutch

Dr. Andrew Hsieh awarded $15K at Fred Hutch’s first-ever Fast Pitch event

Congratulations to Dr. Andrew Hsieh, who earned $15,000 to put toward his research into prostate cancer. Hsieh, the newest member of Fred Hutch’s prostate cancer research team, delivered a short presentation about his work to an interested audience at last week’s Fast Pitch at Fred Hutch.

“It was a great experience. It pushed me to think about the broader possibilities of my work in protein synthesis control and how that pertains to patients,” Hsieh said. “I’m very thankful to the donors. The funds provided a boost in the lab and will be very helpful in ongoing experiments.”

The Fast Pitch event — the first of its kind put on by Fred Hutch — featured six early-career researchers who distilled their work into five- to seven-minute presentations. The audience was made up of interested supporters who registered for the $1,000-a-plate lunch to hear about the innovative scientific projects. The audience ranked the projects after the speeches.

While Hsieh earned the grand prize, every presenter was awarded $2,000 to put toward their respective projects.

The other Fred Hutch researchers taking part in Fast Pitch were:

  • Dr. Raphael Gottardo, who uses cutting-edge analytics to study tuberculosis and other infections, and to design better vaccines
  • Dr. David MacPherson, who is working to understand key gene mutations in small-cell lung cancer
  • Dr. Bonnie McGregor, who is developing an interactive wellness and coping workshop for ovarian cancer survivors
  • Dr. Justin Taylor, who is interested in using rare B cells to make HIV vaccines effective
  • Dr. Brian Till, who is refining T-cell immunotherapy for lymphoma
Produced by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

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