Stem cell transplantation physician-scientist recruited from Australia to join Fred Hutch, SCCA

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Stem cell transplantation physician-scientist recruited from Australia to join Fred Hutch, SCCA

Dr. Geoffrey Hill will help integrate bone marrow transplantation with emerging cancer immunotherapies

Dec. 7, 2017
Dr. Geoffrey Hill

Dr. Geoffrey Hill

Photo courtesy of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is appointing world-renowned blood stem cell transplantation physician-scientist Dr. Geoffrey Hill to be director of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation, effective July 1.

Hill, an Australian hematologist who leads the bone marrow transplantation and cancer programs at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, is one of the foremost authorities on graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD, a potentially fatal complication of stem cell transplantation. He also treats stem cell and bone marrow transplant patients at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Australia. These types of transplantation are the most common, curative treatments for leukemia and other blood cancers.

At Fred Hutch, Hill will be a member of the Clinical Research Division and hold the José Carreras/E. Donnall Thomas Endowed Chair for Cancer Research, as well as provide care to transplant patients at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner. He will also be a professor in the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Washington.

“Fred Hutch has been the leader in bone marrow transplantation for decades, and Geoff’s expertise as a researcher and clinician will enable the Hutch to stay at the cutting edge of the field,” said Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, senior vice president of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch and president and executive director of SCCA. She took up those positions a year ago and also was then named head of the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We’re thrilled about the vision Geoff will bring to our efforts to advance stem cell transplantation, which is one form of immunotherapy,” Davidson said.

Integrating BMT with emerging immunotherapies

Hill comes to Seattle as Fred Hutch and SCCA seek to integrate bone marrow transplantation — for which the Hutch’s Dr. E. Donnall Thomas earned a Nobel Prize in 1990 — with new and emerging immunotherapies for cancer.

“Bone marrow transplantation was the first immunotherapy, and since pioneering the procedure, we have learned vastly more about how the immune system enables the therapy to work,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. “Geoff is a world-renowned stem cell transplant expert and he will lead the Hutch into the next era of cellular therapies for treatment of cancer. We are very excited to have recruited him.”

Hill will work closely with immunotherapy experts at Fred Hutch and the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic at SCCA to identify ways to combine transplantation with Fred Hutch expertise in other immunotherapies that involve engineering T cells to target and kill cancer cells.  

“As a transplant physician, there is a great attraction to move to the Hutch, both because of its historical significance in pioneering bone marrow transplantation and its continuing innovation in this therapy,” Hill said.

Hill’s research team has produced significant insights into the immunological processes that underlie GVHD, the complication that arises when the newly transplanted donor immune system mounts an attack on the transplant recipient. The common condition varies from mild to disabling and can be fatal.

He has developed preclinical models demonstrating the type of cells that initiate GVHD and how molecules called cytokines orchestrate the severity of the disease, leading to a number of new therapeutic approaches. At Fred Hutch he will continue his lab research aimed at minimizing GVHD and making transplantation more tolerable to patients.

Patients drive his work

“What drives my work as a clinician and a researcher is seeing patients with poor outcomes after transplant and trying to address those through clinical research,” Hill said. “We’ve found a number of new immune pathways involved in initiating and maintaining GVHD, which give us good therapeutic targets.”

Hill received medical training in New Zealand and Australia and additional research training and experience at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University. He is a long-standing Senior Principal Research Fellow of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, co-authoring more than 150 journal articles on stem cells, transplantation and GVHD.

Hill was the 2005 Queenslander of the Year and received both the Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand 2009 Ian McKenzie Award and the 2014 Translational Research Institute National Prize for excellence within basic and clinical research in the transplant field. He was also awarded a Queensland Health Senior Clinical Research Fellowship in 2010 to translate new cytokine and cell-based therapies into clinical practice.

“We are excited to welcome Geoff Hill to the faculty of the UW Department of Medicine,” said Dr. William J. Bremner, chair of the department and the Robert G. Petersdorf Endowed Chair in Medicine. “He will be clinically active in the SCCA and his translational research will greatly advance our understanding of the immunological mechanisms involved in transplantation and its complications, including GVHD, thereby improving patient care.”

Molly McElroy, a senior media relations specialist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has written about science, education and policy topics at the University of Washington and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Reach her on Twitter @mwmcelroy.

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