40 things you didn't know about Fred Hutch

Hutch Magazine

40 things you didn't know about Fred Hutch

Photo by Robert Hood

Fred Hutch turns 40 this year! To start the celebration, we invite you to discover 40 things you probably don’t know about Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, including what’s in our time capsule and how many study volunteers have used our Prevention Center.

Nancy Lowry knew she was sick — but she had no idea she was about to help make history. 

It was August 1960 and the 6-year-old had recently been diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Now her bone marrow wasn’t able to create enough new blood cells and the frequent transfusions she got were no longer working. She was dying, although her parents kept that from her.

They had heard about an experimental procedure that was still in its infancy but might offer a chance: bone marrow transplantation.

At University Hospital in Seattle, Lowry met Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, now known as the “father of bone marrow transplantation,” who served on her transplant team. Years later, after the formation of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and after many more transplants, he would go on to win the Nobel Prize.

But back then Thomas was in the very early stages of pioneering the procedure. Lowry’s donor was her identical twin sister, Barbara, who underwent 50 needle aspirations to get the
needed marrow.

“I was aware something sort of magical had happened,” said Lowry, now 61, of her transplant. “I was sick — and a month later I was not sick.”

Lowry’s was among the first successful bone marrow transplants. An Associated Press article published in 1961 said neither of the two other attempts listed in medical literature had worked.

“What’s important is that [Thomas] kept persisting,” Lowry said.

His continued research, alongside his wife, Dottie, and the procedure’s promise convinced Seattle surgeon Dr. Bill Hutchinson to make Thomas’ work a central part of the cancer research institute he was establishing. In 1975, the doors opened on Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which Bill founded as a living tribute to his brother Fred, a Major League Baseball player and manager who died of lung cancer in 1964 at age 45.
Lowry completely recovered, and her experience fueled her drive to help others. She earned a master’s degree in nursing and went on to work with children, first as a public health nurse and now as a school nurse in the Pacific Northwest. Her donor and twin, Barbara, became an occupational therapist.

"Back then, medical miracles were few and far between. People saw each breakthrough with a sense of wonder," Lowry said. "People told me what a sense of hope that transplant gave people."

That sense of wonder is at the foundation of Fred Hutch, where researchers such as Dr. Rainer Storb, age 79, delay retirement because they can’t wait to find out what happens next. Driving it all is the most basic, and biggest, desire: To allow people like Lowry to live out full lives that they wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise.

Today, not only is blood stem cell transplantation a standard procedure — more than 1 million transplants have been done around the world for patients with dozens of different diseases — but researchers at Fred Hutch continue to build on that work to find innovative new treatments. Those include the so-called "mini" transplant, which uses lower doses of chemotherapy and radiation; cord blood transplants, which offer an option for people without a matched adult donor; and immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system. Other critical work is also being done in the areas of HIV and infection-related cancers, solid tumors and more.

Just as Lowry’s transplant was a starting point for changing medical history, discoveries are being made today at Fred Hutch that will shape the next four decades and beyond. In honor of our 40th year, we invite you to make your own discoveries; read on to find 40 things you probably didn’t know about Fred Hutch.


Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, 1943

Arnold Library Archive

Dr. E. Donnall Thomas received the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine Photo courtesy of Nobel Foundation

Photo courtesy of Nobel Foundation

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Nurses provided at-home care for some early transplant patients
Fred Hutch’s transplant nurses occasionally accompanied their sickest patients home to help get them settled, recalls Judy Campbell, a founding member of the Hutch’s nursing staff. "It was generally within the states, but also we had a nurse or two who traveled to other countries to do this," said Campbell, who retired in 2014 after a 45-year career.

Patients prepped for transplant in a WWII bunker
In the 1960s, before the Hutch had officially opened, bone marrow transplant patients received total-body irradiation — to wipe out their cancerous marrow before it was replaced with healthy marrow — in a former WWII military bunker in West Seattle.

 Fred Hutch file

An all-star opening

President Gerald Ford, right, shown walking next to Dr. Bill Hutchinson, was among the luminaries who attended the grand opening of Fred Hutch in September 1975. Other guests included Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Warren Magnuson and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. 

'Mini' transplant
Today’s transplant patients receive radiation in state-of-the-art facilities at the University of Washington and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Some even get radiation as outpatients, thanks to pioneering work by Dr. Rainer Storb and his colleagues, who developed the "mini" transplant for those who are older or have complications that rule out conventional regimens.

Multiplying cures: Transplants now treat more than 50 diseases
Originally, only certain leukemia and aplastic anemia patients received bone marrow transplants; today the procedure is used to treat dozens of diseases, including autoimmune disorders, sickle cell anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, and inherited immune-system and metabolic disorders.  

Laura Graves

Photo courtesy of Be The Match

Fred Hutch's lifesaving research inspired one family
to establish a national marrow registry

In 1979, Laura Graves, at right, a 10-year-old leukemia patient, was referred to Fred Hutch for a bone marrow transplant. When none of her relatives proved a compatible donor, a Hutch lab member turned up as a match. While the transplant was an initial success, Laura died two years later of a cancer recurrence. Her parents, Dr. Robert and Sherry Graves, went on to establish the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry (now called Be The Match) in 1986.

Laura DiLella returned to visit Fred Hutch on the 30th anniversary of the bone marrow transplant that cured her acute myeloid leukemia. Here, she is reunited with Dr. Fred Appelbaum, one of those who helped save her life.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

1 million+ transplants
More than 1 million people have received blood stem cell transplants around the globe, all of which trace back to the pioneering work at Fred Hutch. In 1975, Hutch physician-scientists performed roughly 100 transplants per year — about half of all transplants around the world. Today more than 50,000 patients are transplanted annually worldwide, about 500 of whom are treated by our researchers.

Home of the international HIV Vaccine Trials Network
The HVTN is the world’s largest publicly funded, multidisciplinary, international collaboration to develop vaccines to prevent HIV/AIDS. Headquartered at Fred Hutch, it conducts all phases of clinical trials — from evaluating experimental vaccines for safety to testing vaccine efficacy — in over 30 cities on five continents.

Chernobyl hero treated at Fred Hutch
Soviet pilot Anatoly Grishchenko, who developed leukemia in 1986 after his heroic attempt to seal off the burning Chernobyl nuclear reactor using a huge dome suspended from his helicopter, received a bone marrow transplant at Fred Hutch. After Grishchenko died in 1990, flags flew at half-staff around Seattle.

1 million gifts for cures
In the past 40 years, more than 300,000 generous donors have made approximately 1 million gifts to Fred Hutch — everything from tribute gifts honoring loved ones and donations of assets like stocks and bonds, to workplace giving. Donors also have participated in fundraising events, attending the Hutch Holiday Gala, climbing mountains, riding in Obliteride, or shopping and dining, all in the name of cancer research.

Precision therapy for leukemias and lymphomas
Hutch researchers demonstrated for the first time that lab-made antibodies can be used to target radiation specifically to blood cancers and were instrumental in the development of such antibody-based treatments for non-Hodgkin and follicular lymphomas.


One oncologist in Uganda — until Hutch partnership

For the past decade, Fred Hutch has partnered with the Uganda Cancer Institute to study and improve treatment of infection-associated cancers, and train researchers and care providers. Before this partnership, there was one oncologist for all of Uganda; now there are 16 oncologists and 70 nurses and support staff. This year, the doors will open on sub-Saharan Africa’s first comprehensive cancer center jointly constructed by U.S. and African cancer institutions.
Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

The writing is, literally, on the wall
At the original location on First Hill, Hutch researchers gathered in hallways and scribbled on walls as they worked through problems. "Ideas would flash fast and furious — and they would just write them on the walls whenever it came to them," recalls former Fred Hutch board member Jean Rolfe.

Fruit flies named Chuck and Thelma in time capsule
A time capsule was buried on the Fred Hutch campus on June 1, 1993, to be opened in 2093. It contains two fruit flies named Chuck and Thelma, a marrow-aspiration needle, a Hickman catheter, DNA from an HIV lab, a Starbucks cup and a day’s worth of lab trash.


Hutch School: The best school you hope your kids never attend

Established in 1979, Hutch School is the only accredited K-12 school in the U.S. that is attached to a cancer center. It serves approximately 150 students per year — patients and family members of patients receiving treatment in Seattle.

Exercising for science
Our one-of-a-kind Prevention Center is a scientific laboratory, but not the kind with petri dishes or microscopes. Instead, it houses a state-of-the-art Exercise Research Center staffed by experts who oversee exercise programs tailored for study participants. Since opening in 2001, more than 2,300 volunteers have taken part in studies aimed at working out how lifestyle factors influence cancer risk and prevention.

Three Nobels in physiology or medicine
Dr. E. Donnall Thomas won the Nobel in 1990 for establishing bone marrow transplantation as a successful treatment that has boosted survival rates from nearly zero to 90 percent for certain types of leukemia. Dr. Lee Hartwell, Fred Hutch president and director emeritus and a yeast geneticist, won in 2001 for discovering the universal mechanism that controls cell division, which has revolutionized our understanding of human cancers. Dr. Linda Buck, a Hutch basic scientist, won in 2004 for her discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the system that governs the sense of smell.

"Bentwood Box"

Photo by Russell Johnson, Courtesy of Preston Singletary Studio

Rodin, Ansel Adams and more
Fred Hutch houses a collection of more than 450 works of art, including pieces by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, glass artist Dale Chihuly and American expressionist Morris Graves. The family of former Hutch patient Frederick Kullman also donated signed 20th century black-and-white photography masterworks by Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith, Edward Weston and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others. Native American glass artist Preston Singletary, whose studio is located on our campus, loaned 25 pieces from his private collection to the Hutch.

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WHI at Fred Hutch: Changing women's lives
More than 4 million women stopped taking combined hormone-replacement therapy for menopause symptoms after a landmark 2002 study showed an increased risk for heart disease, cancer and stroke. The study was part of the Hutch-based Women’s Health Initiative. In the decade following, the finding resulted in 126,000 fewer breast cancer cases, 76,000 fewer cases of heart disease and 80,000 fewer cases of venous thromboembolism.

Accommodating lefty scientists
Twenty percent of the 146 seats in Fred Hutch’s Pelton Auditorium are for left-handers because the percentage of lefties is twice as high among scientists compared to the general population.

I spy ladybugs
In one of Fred Hutch’s original buildings, radiation was given in a drab, concrete room. To brighten things up for kids, staff painted a jungle mural with 150 “hidden” ladybugs for them to discover during treatment. 

HPV vaccine rooted in Hutch science
Breakthrough research by the Hutch’s Dr. Denise Galloway and colleagues first demonstrated that human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are associated with nearly all genital-tract cancers as well as some head and neck cancers. Her work also paved the way for a vaccine against high-risk HPVs, which has helped prevent cervical cancer in hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

Birthplace of the Hickman catheter
In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Hickman, a founding member of the Hutch transplant team, invented a single catheter to deliver chemotherapy and intravenous nutrition as well as draw blood. The Hickman catheter is still used worldwide, saving millions of patients the pain and inconvenience of multiple needle sticks and IV injections.

Highest survival rates
Five-year survival rates among patients treated at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (Fred Hutch’s patient-care arm) are higher than other accredited cancer programs for almost every cancer type, according to the most recent National Cancer Data Base Survival Reports.

3-D map by Infographic World for Fred Hutch

Walk and remember
Every day, Hutch employees pass through the Mundie Courtyard, surrounded by the Thomas, Weintraub and Hutchinson buildings, where hundreds of special messages are engraved in bricks and slates to honor and memorialize loved ones — a poignant reminder of why we do what we do.

'Freezer farm' preserves thousands of specimens
More than 1,000 freezers full of biological samples occupy our "freezer farm."  Backups are always on and ready; if a freezer's on the fritz, facilities engineers are on duty 24/7 to help rush the priceless contents into temperature-preset spares.

We don't swat fruit flies, we study them
Hutch researchers rely on tiny organisms to tackle key questions about fundamental life processes. Our campus includes two temperature-controlled rooms which, over the course of a year, house some 4,000 different types of fruit flies in up to half a million plastic vials, where they dine on a gelatinous mush of cornmeal and molasses during their brief, but purposeful, six-week lives.


Lipstick on a fish

Dr. Katie Peichel, a Hutch geneticist who studies threespine stickleback fish to understand complex genetic traits, once tried to put lipstick on the fish to test whether female fish prefer to mate with males that have red versus black throats.


At 79, Dr. Rainer Storb commutes by shell

Transplant biologist and founding faculty member Dr. Rainer Storb often rows nine miles round-trip to and from work.

Lifesaving alternative when there isn't a donor match
Dr. Hal Weintraub, a trailblazing basic scientist at Fred Hutch, unlocked the mystery of how single cells develop into complex tissues such as nerves, muscles and blood. This discovery paved the way for Drs. Irv Bernstein and Colleen Delaney to develop a method to multiply stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood, making cord blood a lifesaving alternative for patients who need a transplant but cannot find a matched adult donor.

Putting mice into suspended animation
Fred Hutch cell biologist Dr. Mark Roth made headlines in 2005 when he put mice into a state of reversible suspended animation by exposing them to minute amounts of hydrogen sulfide. He went on to receive a MacArthur "genius" award. One day the technique may be used to dim metabolism and buy time for critically ill patients.

Enough generators to power 9,000 homes
Because of the sensitivity of in-progress experiments, the Hutch has eight stand-by generators, enough to power thousands of homes.

World-renowned patients include José Carreras, Carl Sagan, Susan Sontag
Astronomer Carl Sagan, writer Susan Sontag and tenor José Carreras are just a few of the thousands of transplant patients treated by Hutch researchers. Carreras later established an international foundation to support the research that saved his life and created the José Carreras/E. Donnall Thomas Endowed Chair for Cancer Research at Fred Hutch.

From behind the Iron Curtain to outer space
Drs. Roland Strong and Barry Stoddard, both basic scientists at the Hutch, have pieces of the Soviet space shuttle Buran in their offices — souvenirs of their trip to launch protein-crystallization experiments to space station Mir. Their experiments, conducted in orbit in December 1989, were the first-ever commercial American payload on the Soviet space station.

Photo by Photo Quest Ltd.

Pioneering T-cell therapy
Hutch researchers were the first to show that human T cells can be isolated, multiplied in the lab and given to patients to prevent viral diseases. In 2008, they reported the first known successful use of a patient’s own cloned T cells as the sole therapy to put his advanced melanoma into long-term remission. The Hutch continues to lead the world in the field of T-cell therapy, in which these immune cells are specially engineered to eliminate
a patient’s cancer.

A living memorial: Brothers Bill and Fred Hutchinson shared a lasting bond

Dr. Bill Hutchinson, left, and his brother Fred with their families.

Arnold Library Archive

They were 10 years apart in age and took different paths in life. But the two brothers had a bond like few others.

Bill and Fred Hutchinson grew up together in Seattle, both standout baseball players with prospects in the major leagues. But while Bill, a third baseman and captain of his University of Washington team, chose to follow their father into medicine and became a surgeon, the younger Fred jumped at the chance to pitch professionally after high school, quickly rising to prominence in the majors as a player and manager.

Although their divergent paths took them more than 2,000 miles apart, Bill was still the person Fred turned to when he found lumps in his neck and upper chest in 1963. It was lung cancer, and Bill brought Fred to Seattle for treatment. But Fred, with advanced disease, died in 1964 at age 45.

The annual Hutch Award Luncheon takes place at Seattle’s Safeco Field, where the aisle end of each row of seats features an engraved sketch of Fred Hutchinson.

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Mariners

In memory of his brother, Bill named his nascent cancer research center after Fred. Today, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center stands as a living memorial and a testament to the profound connection between the two brothers.

Every year, Fred Hutch supporters gather at the Hutch Award Luncheon to raise money for cancer research and to bestow the Hutch Award on the Major League Baseball player who most embodies Fred’s fighting spirit and competitive desire. While the award, which was established by sports writers the year after Fred’s death, honors his great impact on the sport to which he dedicated his life, the event also carries on Bill’s legacy of honoring his beloved brother through research.

Over the past 15 years, the Hutch Award Luncheon has raised more than $4.3 million to support research aimed at overcoming diseases.

View a slideshow of the last 50 Hutch Award® winners >