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Blitz Visit

Seahawks' mascot brings joy and inspiration to kids with cancer


The Seahawks' "Blitz" mascot visited Fred Hutch's campus and met survivor Max Hanson in January.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

by Linda Dahlstrom

It was a meeting of the mascots.

The Seattle Seahawks’ beloved “Blitz” stood in Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s lobby with his wing around Max Hanson, a high school senior. Hanson describes himself as “a big football nerd,” and represents Seattle Preparatory School as its Panther mascot.

The meeting was about bringing joy to children with brain cancer.

When Hanson was 8 years old, he developed searing headaches, prompting a CT scan. Hanson remembers watching his father pace back and forth in the hospital as the family waited for results. When they came, “the floor dropped out from under us,” said his mother, Erin Cordry. Hanson had a medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor.

He underwent surgery and started a protocol developed by Hutch researcher Dr. Jim Olson.

“His research is what we believe saved Max’s life,” Cordry said.

Today, Max rows crew and cheers on his school’s teams as a mascot. He’s inspired by Blitz, whom he describes as “being so cool.”

That’s exactly why Blitz came to the Hutch.

“A big joy for him is to get to bring a smile to kids’ faces,” said Ryan Asdourian, who calls himself Blitz’s “handler.”

Asdourian reached out to Olson after seeing a TEDx talk he gave about Project Violet, which is pursuing innovative brain cancer treatments.

Asdourian knows what it’s like to get a serious diagnosis. In 2008, he learned he had multiple

Olson, who has three family members with MS, is committed to supporting better treatments for the degenerative disease. Each year, Asdourian helps raise money for MS research through the annual Team Blitz Pub Crawl, which will be held on April 12.

“You never know what tomorrow will bring so it’s important to live life to the fullest,” Asdourian said. “A diagnosis like this is a strong reminder.”

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Accelerating Progress

Fred Hutch, Memorial Sloan-Kettering partner on $145 million startup

Immunotherapy researcher Dr. Stan Riddell

Photo by Susie Fitzhugh for Fred Hutch

by Deborah Bach

In December, Fred Hutch, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Seattle Children’s Research Institute joined forces to launch Juno Therapeutics Inc., a new biotechnology company focused on developing immunotherapies for cancer.

Juno’s approach reprograms infection-fighting T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. This has the potential to reduce or eliminate the need for debilitating surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

“Joining together creates incredible potential to develop immunotherapies that help cancer patients not just in Seattle and the United States, but worldwide,” said Dr. Larry Corey, Fred Hutch’s president and director.

Juno was launched with $145 million in initial funding, making it one of the largest Series A biotech startups ever. Its founding scientists include Fred Hutch Drs. Phil Greenberg and Stanley Riddell.

That funding, and the founding institutions’ immunotherapy expertise, gives Juno the ability to bring new therapies to clinical trials more quickly.

“We all recognized that philanthropy alone wasn’t going to be sufficient to accelerate a cure,” said Paula Reynolds, chair of the Hutch board of trustees. “We needed to develop a new model that … can more rapidly validate therapies and make them available to more patients.”

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Preventing Overdiagnosis

New tool could help men avoid debilitating treatments

Dr. Ruth Etzioni

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

by Kristen Woodward

Approximately one in six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, but doctors can’t tell when such cancer is harmless and when it will turn lethal. This means many men will undergo surgeries and treatments they don’t need, and potentially suffer devastating side effects such as impotence and incontinence.

To prevent such collateral damage, researchers from Fred Hutch and the University of Washington have developed a new tool to determine the likelihood that a prostate cancer patient has been “overdiagnosed,” or diagnosed with a cancer that poses little risk.

The new tool is a nomogram, or specialized graphical calculating device, which uses a patient’s age, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level and other key information to determine the chances he’s been overdiagnosed. The research team, which included Fred Hutch’s Roman Gulati and Dr. Ruth Etzioni, envisions patients and doctors using the tool to help them decide whether to pursue treatment or take a wait-and-see approach.

The initial work behind the nomogram was published recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Cord Blood Cures

Rod Carew's Hutch visit showcases new therapies

Rod Carew on Time Magazine's cover, 1977

by Diane Mapes

Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew knows cancer and the swath it cuts through families.

“In September of 1995, my youngest daughter, Michelle, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia,” said Carew, keynote speaker at the 49th annual Hutch Award Luncheon in January.

Carew’s 17-year-old daughter underwent chemotherapy and radiation at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California while the family searched for a bone marrow donor. Tragically, a match couldn’t be found due to Michelle’s rare genetic composition (Carew is of Panamanian and West Indian descent and Michelle’s mother is of Russian descent). Michelle received a cord blood transplant in March of 1996 – a rare procedure at the time – but died the following month.

The transplant was starting to take effect, Carew later learned, there just hadn’t been enough time for it to work.

At the luncheon, held Jan. 30 at Safeco Field, Carew honored Hutch Award winner Raúl Ibañez, a three-time Seattle Mariner now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who has dedicated his life to giving back. Carew and Ibañez also toured Fred Hutch labs and met several researchers, including Dr. Colleen Delaney, Cord Blood Transplant Program director.

Delaney helped pioneer a technique that expands the number of stem cells in umbilical cord blood, which can help transplants take hold more quickly. Cord blood is now an accepted source of blood stem cells for patients who can’t find a bone marrow donor.

“Through novel methods in growing cord blood stem cells developed at the Hutch, we’re … really changing the outcome for cord blood recipients,” Delaney said. “In fact, their outcomes are as good as conventional unrelated bone marrow donors. We’ve equalized the playing field.” 

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