Early in Dr. Denise Galloway’s career, she became fascinated by the idea that a virus could lead to cancer by sparking changes within cells.
“So I started asking: Which of the virus’s genes cause the cell to become abnormal and what do they do?” said Galloway, who holds the Fred Hutch 40th Anniversary Endowed Chair.
This question led Galloway to study the human papillomavirus, or HPV, and to make breakthrough contributions to a vaccine that prevents HPV and averts tens of thousands of cervical cancer cases each year.
Galloway and her colleagues showed that HPV is associated with nearly all genital-tract cancers and with many head and neck cancers. Her team also played a pivotal role in identifying how HPV causes cancer.
Galloway is particularly proud of how quickly her research translated into a lifesaving approach.
“In just 25 years, we went from not having any idea what viruses were involved in these cancers to having a vaccine,” she said. “That’s amazingly fast.”
Now, Galloway is building on her experience and that landmark advance to lead a larger and even more ambitious initiative. As director of the Hutch’s Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center, she is driving efforts to understand, treat and prevent cancers caused, directly or indirectly, by viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
Each year, 14 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer, and up to 20 percent of those cancers are caused by pathogens. Her goal through the center is to help Fred Hutch lead the way in eliminating that burden — and to advance cures for all cancers to chart a new research direction.
“I would like to make a dent in reducing some other pathogen-associated cancers,” Galloway said. “You know, we had a great hit with HPV. I would like a great hit with something else.”