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Science Education Partnership celebrates 25 years bringing cutting-edge biology to Washington state classrooms

Director Dr. Nancy Hutchison to retire next month; SEP member Jeanne Chowning takes the reins

Sept. 30, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Nancy Hutchison Science Education Partnership

Under Dr. Nancy Hutchison's direction, the Science Education Partnership has worked with about 500 Washington state science teachers. Hutchison is retiring in October after a 34-year career at the Hutch.

Photo courtesy of Caren Brinkema

When Barb Schulz met Dr. Nancy Hutchison, who was at the time a molecular biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Schulz had been a high school biology teacher for 20 years.

But Hutchison was the first practicing scientist she’d ever met.

Schulz didn’t let that 1989 meeting, which was almost a chance occurrence, go by quietly. The next day, she called Hutchison to ask if she had any spare frog eggs that Schulz’s students could use for an experiment. And soon after, Schulz asked if one of her Shoreline, Washington, high school students  could spend the summer interning in Hutchison’s lab. During that summer, Schulz visited the Hutch to see what her student was up to.

“I saw what the student was doing and I said, ‘Move over and let me do it too,’” said Schulz, who is now retired from teaching and lives in Sisters, Oregon. “And one thing led to another and we talked about, wouldn’t it be more effective if instead of taking a student she would take a teacher?”

And the rest, as Schulz said, was history — more than two decades of history, as the Hutch’s Science Education Partnership that she and Hutchison later founded marks its 25th anniversary this year. Hutchison, Schulz and their colleagues in education and research got SEP off the ground shortly after that summer internship, launching a program to give Washington state high school and middle school science teachers access to cutting-edge biology knowledge, techniques, materials and equipment.

The program, which has worked with approximately 500 Washington science teachers since its inception, is like a science boot camp for teachers. They attend an intensive, hands-on training session at the Hutch during the summer, after which they pair up with individual Hutch researchers to conduct experiments and learn new techniques in those researchers’ labs. By the end, the teachers develop new experiments and teaching segments for their classes. The program also loans out science kits throughout the school year for SEP teachers to use in their classrooms.

The “partnership” piece of SEP is its most critical component, said Hutchison, who’s been the program’s director since it came into existence. Hutchison is retiring next month after a 34-year career at the Hutch. Jeanne Chowning, an early SEP participant and currently associate executive director at Rainier Scholars, will take the reins in mid-October.

“This piece, the partnership, seemed really important from the get-go — working together with teachers, not trying to ‘fix’ teachers, but really working together,” Hutchison said. “Scientists have a huge amount to learn about how to be better communicators and teachers.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Sept. 30, 2016

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker earns NCI Research Specialist Award

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker, whose analytical science is helping drive nationally recognized proteomics research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has won an NCI Research Specialist Award.

The National Cancer Institute honor is offered to encourage the development of reliable career opportunities for “exceptional scientists” who seek to pursue biomedical study within existing cancer-research programs but who will not be serving as independent investigators, said an NCI news release. 

“I really appreciate the NCI for establishing the Research Specialist program. It is a unique award that recognizes the efforts of scientists, like myself that do not have independent research programs but make significant contributions to the research enterprise,” said Whiteaker, a staff scientist in the Hutch lab of Dr. Amanda Paulovich. 

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Where faith meets cancer

About half of those with cancer face a religious struggle; a patient, chaplain and grieving mom reveal how cancer reshaped their views

Sept. 28, 2016 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Stephen King

Dr. Stephen King, manager of the spiritual care and chaplaincy program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, in the SCCA sanctuary.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Nestled in a wheelchair, Juan Perez wore a red blanket and a serene expression. He was nearing the famous sanctuary in Lourdes, France — the place, many faithful believe, where spontaneous cures happen.

“I was thinking,” he said, “of a miracle.”

Perez has synovial sarcoma, a soft-tissue malignancy that began near his heart. He’s undergone surgery, chemo, radiation and immunotherapy at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), clinical partner of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. With standard treatment, most patients with that disease survive 12 to 16 months.

Perez was 21 months beyond his diagnosis when he arrived in Lourdes last spring. There, he and his wife, Susan, bathed in a grotto spring that many believers associate with dozens of healings. They sipped the spring’s cool water. And they prayed with other pilgrims. 

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How research and industry partnerships can advance cancer care

Fred Hutch, Merck co-host inaugural ‘Oncology Summit’ to capture non-profit and for-profit outlooks on cancer care

Sept. 27, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Niki Robinson

Dr. Niki Robinson, Fred Hutch's VP of business development and industry relations, speaks during the inaugural Oncology Summit at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood houses a panoply of non-profit life sciences research centers and universities, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and investment firms.

But it’s rare that representatives from these different spheres of the biomedical research and development world are all in the same room.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Friday brought together academic and industry researchers, business development experts from the Hutch and biotech, and venture capital investors at the Hutch’s first “Oncology Summit,” co-hosted with Merck, headquartered in New Jersey and one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Organized by Fred Hutch vice president of business development Dr. Niki Robinson and Dr. Michelle Chen, executive director of business development and licensing at Merck's West Coast Innovation Hub, the event aimed to bring together key players from the Hutch, investment firms and life sciences companies to lay the groundwork for future partnerships and collaborations, Robinson said.

“There’s so much cross-talk amongst the organizations,” she said. Robinson and Chen wanted to find an organized way for Merck, the Hutch, investors and others in the life sciences industry to “come together and share scientific stories,” Robinson said.

The organizers’ goal for Friday’s summit was to gather and exchange different perspectives on the discovery and development of therapies and diagnostics to advance immunotherapy and other therapeutics for cancer care and hopefully get treatments to patients faster, they said. 

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The molecules that drive cell movement

A new study visualizing cells' 'leading edge' sheds light on processes behind cellular migration

Sept. 23, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Microscopic images, such as this one, shed light on the processes behind cellular migration.

Photos/videos from Teckchandani A, Cooper JA. Elife. 2016 Sep 22;5. pii: e17440.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center biologist and director of the Basic Sciences Division Dr. Jonathan Cooper studies the molecules that drive cell movement. Understanding how cells migrate through the body will help scientists better understand not only embryonic development, but disease processes such as wound healing and cancer metastasis.

This week, Cooper and Fred Hutch postdoc Dr. Anjali Teckchandani published a new study in the journal eLife describing their latest findings on the proteins that act at the edge of a migrating cell.

Take a peek at what the researchers saw through their microscopes in this slideshow.

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Cancer communication breakdown

Say what?! Confusing medical jargon and topsy-turvy language can leave a lot of patients feeling lost in translation

Sept. 22, 2016 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center

Lost in translation illustration

Illustration by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

Like many diseases, cancer has its own special language. It’s one of the first things I learned after I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2011. Well, actually, I learned it at the exact same time.

“Your biopsy results came back,” the radiologist told me over the phone. “They’re all positive.”

“Oh thank God,” I said, relief washing over me. A nanosecond later, the relief was gone. Apparently, positive is not positive in the world of cancer. Positive is awful. Negative results are what you want.

What else do you want? “Unremarkable” body parts, especially if those body parts have just been scanned by CT or PET or MRI. My uterus is unremarkable according to my scans, which I at first thought was a snide jab from some lab tech until my doctor explained it just meant there was no sign of cancer.

So apparently cancer isn’t just positive, it’s also remarkable. That’s not confusing at all.

Whether it’s topsy-turvy meanings for words like positive, negative or progression (another bad thing in Cancerland), stilted phrases like “poor outcome” or “end-of-life event” when referring to death, or the murky, quirky alphabet soup of medical-speak — “You have ER+ PR+ HER-2/neu negative invasive lobular carcinoma, or ILC. Any questions?” — most cancer patients have run up against a “lost-in-translation” moment with their doctors. I’m not talking about patients who speak a different language (although this can certainly up the confusion). Or the shell shock that happens as soon as somebody in a white coat drops the C-bomb, that thing where time stands still and you suddenly turn into a patient version of that old "Far Side" cartoon “What dogs hear”:  Blah blah blah cancer blah blah blah blah cancer blah blah blah.

I’m talking about leaving a surgeon's or oncologist’s office with absolutely no clue as to what’s going on with your body or what they’re going to do about it. If your doctor uses euphemisms like “neoplasm” or “malignancy” to explain your diagnosis, you might not even know you have cancer.  

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