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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Jan. 12, 2017
Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil

Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil with the book he co-authored, the authoritative text on tumor avatar models.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil co-authors tumor ‘avatar model’ book

Fred Hutch’s Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil has recently written a book on tumor avatar models — or make that, the book on tumor avatar models. Also known as “patient-derived xenografts,” or PDX, these mouse models aim to recapitulate tumors’ complexity and individuality more fully than previous preclinical models — cell lines grown from a single type of cancerous cell but passaged multiple times in petri dishes, and mouse models of cancer derived from these cell lines.

As director of the Fred Hutch Comparative Medicine Program, Uthamanthil’s singular focus is making better preclinical models for translational work, he said. As part of that effort, he’s currently leading the Hutch’s PDX Core Program, which is less than a year old and now houses avatar mice that bear tumors taken from patients with many different types of cancer. Recently, Uthamanthil also became interim leader of Fred Hutch's Shared Resources department and said he hopes to channel his passion into leading research resources that provide outstanding services to support science at Hutch.

As the name implies, an avatar model uses a sample of a patient’s individual tumor to better capture that person’s unique tumor biology — and, hopefully, the biology of other patients whose tumors share similar genetic and molecular profiles. If the patient’s tumor is slow-growing enough, tests could be performed on the avatars in time to inform that patient’s own treatment. But even if not, Uthamanthil and his colleagues still believe this approach could improve translational research and get good cancer treatments into the clinic at a higher rate.

Better preclinical models are needed, Uthamanthil said, because about 95 percent of new cancer treatments that seem to work in mouse and other animal models fail to work in human cancer patients.

“The weakest link in translational cancer research is preclinical models,” he said.

The Academic Press book, “Patient Derived Tumor Xenograft Models: Promise, Potential and Practice,” which is co-authored by two of Uthamanthil’s colleagues from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and MD Anderson Cancer Center, came about after Uthamanthil delivered a talk on his work on PDX models, he said. A publisher approached him and proposed the book idea.

Although many cancer centers and biotech companies around the world are pursuing this approach, every group does it slightly differently, Uthamanthil said. (He pointed out that commercially available PDX models cost around $500 per animal; the Hutch facility can do the same work for Hutch and UW researchers for less than a quarter that price.)

Their book aims to provide both practical how-to instructions as well as lay out recommendations for what the authors hope will become standards in the field. Because making PDX models combines both animal work with patient samples and patient data, there are a lot of important regulations and compliance issues researchers have to face to be successful, he said. Hopefully, their book will be a starting point.

— Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Image courtesy of Puget Sound Business Journal

Puget Sound Business Journal names Fred Hutch ‘Innovator of the Year’

On Monday, Puget Sound Business Journal announced the winners of its first-ever Innovation Awards; Fred Hutch received the top honor with its Stoel Rives Innovator of the Year award, named after the presenting sponsor.

According to the PSBJ website, the awards were created to “highlight the creative ways our region’s businesses confront problems and seek solutions.” The program honors companies that have developed innovative methods that will shape the future of business.

Also from the website: “In 2016, Fred Hutch researchers developed treatments — including cutting-edge immunotherapy treatments — for cancer that avoid the harsh side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The Hutch is leading the development of numerous innovations to eradicate illness, with the goal of curing most, if not all, cancers within 10 years. The nonprofit is leading the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ initiative in the region, a goal led by Vice President Joe Biden to find a cure for cancer.”

Other Innovation Award winners were:

  • Aerospace: Blue Origin
  • Banking and finance: Remitly
  • Education: Code.org
  • Food and beverage: Schilling Cider
  • Health care: VICIS
  • Nonprofit: Orion Industries
  • Professional services: Avalara
  • Real estate: Microsoft
  • Retail: REI
  • Technology: Kymeta
  • Travel and hospitality: The Bellevue Collection

The award ceremony will take place during a luncheon Feb. 15 at W Seattle Hotel.

— Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch named ‘SLU Nonprofit of the Year’

The South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce named Fred Hutch the “SLU Nonprofit of the Year” Wednesday evening at its South Lake Union Business & Community Awards Celebration. The event, held annually since 2008, took place at Buca di Beppo, the venue sponsor.

Fred Hutch was among three finalists in the nonprofit category; the others were Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Mary’s Place, a resource for homeless women, children and families.

According to the SLU Chamber website, the awards were established “to recognize individuals, organizations and companies that contribute in a meaningful way to the improvement and success of our community.”

Winners were selected by popular vote. In addition to recognizing nonprofits, award categories included SLU Restaurant, Retailer, Small Business, New Business, Good Neighbor and Changemaker of the Year.

Shine, SCCA's "retail therapy" shop, received the "SLU Retailer of the Year" award.

"Fred Hutch is so honored to receive this award. We are fortunate to be a part of this incredible, innovative hub within the  vibrant South Lake Union community," said Kathryn Sweyer, director of marketing at the Hutch, who presented the "SLU Good Neighbor of the Year" award to PEMCO.

This isn’t the first recognition of Fred Hutch or SCCA by the SLU Chamber; in 2013 the Hutch won in the “Good Neighbor of the Year” category and SCCA received the “Nonprofit of the Year” award.

Amazon.com, wework and SCCA sponsored the event.

— Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service


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