What Your 2018 Dollars Supported

A Palate for Prevention

A Report for Our Premier Chefs Dinner Donors

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Though it’s been nearly 300 years since these words were written, they still ring true today — especially for complex diseases like cancer.

But there is reason for hope. Research suggests that nearly half of all cancer cases can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle. At Fred Hutch, investigators in Public Health Sciences are building on this research by exploring how a person’s unique mix of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors may impact their cancer risk. Donations from the Premier Chefs Dinner are critical to moving this work forward.

Each year, the Premier Chefs Dinner brings the talents of the Pacific Northwest’s finest chefs and winemakers to Fred Hutch’s most generous supporters. Donations from the Premier Chefs Dinner fuel bold, high-potential research projects that would otherwise go unfunded. By acting as seed money for new scientific ideas, these funds move early-stage research forward and position our faculty for future federal grants.

Thanks to our truly amazing donors, the 2018 Premier Chefs Dinner raised a record-breaking $1.4 million for our work in Public Health Sciences. These funds are advancing studies to create more effective prevention and risk-reduction strategies for various cancers. This page offers a view into the research being funded by our incredible community of supporters.

Decoding Lethal Cancer Recurrences

Thanks to unprecedented advances in diagnosis and treatment, more people are surviving cancer now than ever before. Currently, an estimated 15.5 million Americans are cancer survivors. But sadly, over 30 percent of survivors either relapse or develop a second cancer within five years of their last treatment. The situation is most troubling for people whose cancer comes back as metastatic, as metastasis causes an estimated 90 percent of cancer deaths.

Recurrent metastatic cancers often appear in specific parts of the body, and researchers aren’t sure why. For instance, recurrent metastatic breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer — the cancers with the most survivors — tend to appear in the liver, brain, and bone. To further explore this phenomenon, Drs. Christopher LiKathleen MaloneCyrus Ghajar and colleagues are using funds from the Premier Chefs Dinner to probe the various mechanisms that compel cancer to return in specific organs. Using data from multiple Hutch studies on breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, the team is examining how certain risk factors (such as liver function, physical activity, and smoking) and molecular characteristics (such as DNA mutations) may drive these three cancers to metastasize and grow in the liver, brain, and bone of relapsing patients.

Ultimately, this work could inform novel lifestyle and therapeutic strategies for improving the prevention and treatment of lethal cancer recurrences. 

Bolstering Solid Tumor Immunotherapies

In the fight against cancer, the human immune system may be our most powerful weapon. Immune-based treatments, or immunotherapies, have the potential to be more potent and less toxic than traditional cancer treatments. While immunotherapies are generally most effective against blood cancers, a select few are able to fight solid tumors. One of these immunotherapies, checkpoint inhibitor therapy, has been especially successful in treating melanoma and kidney tumors.

Checkpoint inhibitor drugs release the “brakes” on the immune system so it can better attack cancer cells. But for reasons unknown, these drugs only work for some patients with melanoma and kidney cancer, not all. To investigate this matter, Dr. Amanda Phipps is working with researchers at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to determine whether modifiable lifestyle factors such as sleep patterns, smoking, and vitamin D levels can influence a patient’s response to immunotherapy. With support from the Premier Chefs Dinner, the team is collecting data on these lifestyle factors as well as blood samples from SCCA patients receiving checkpoint inhibitor drugs for melanoma or kidney cancer. With this information, they will look for patterns that may indicate a relationship between lifestyle, treatment response, and cancer prognosis.

This work could open new doors for using lifestyle modification approaches to boost the cancer-killing power of immunotherapies.

Opening New Doors for Microbiome Research

Over the past few decades, the human microbiome has been a subject of fascination for many scientists. The microbiome is the community of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our bodies. While some of these bacteria are harmful, others are beneficial and may help us avoid disease. The bacteria in our gut, for instance, may offer clues for how to prevent cancer and make treatments more effective. But before we can decipher these clues, we need to learn more about how the gut microbiome works.  

To explore this question, Drs. Meredith Hullar and Johanna Lampe are creating a unique resource to help expand our knowledge of the human gut microbiome. With funding from the Premier Chefs Dinner, they are working to identify and categorize the various types of gut bacteria present in a group of healthy individuals who have been followed over a two-year period. They will use DNA sequencing technology to study how each person’s gut bacteria changed over those two years. This work will help inform how we design studies of the gut microbiome and its effects on cancer risk and will provide a much-needed dataset and computational tools for researchers to explore the mysteries of the microbiome.

This project has the potential to open new doors for research into the human microbiome and cancer. The data and tools generated by the research team could significantly accelerate future efforts to improve the prevention and diagnosis of various cancers.

What’s on the Horizon

We are working to allocate remaining Premier Chefs Dinner funds to promising cancer prevention research projects. In October, we sent out a call for proposals to faculty in Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences division. Our goal is to fund projects that are innovative, carefully designed, collaborative, and poised to attract additional funding in the future. We are reviewing faculty applications now and expect to make final allocations shortly.

If you would like to learn more about prevention research at Fred Hutch, please email us. Thank you, again, for your shared commitment to curing and preventing cancer.