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Researchers ‘shocked’ to see how often experts misdiagnose certain brain tumors in kids

New study: Molecular tests reveal critical differences in cancers thought to be the same, highlight implications for treatment

Oct. 19, 2018 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Two side-by-side, similar-looking microscopic images of cells stained a blue color.

Based on these microscopic images, shown here side by side, both of these pediatric brain cancers would have been diagnosed as CNS-PNET. But molecular tests revealed that the one on the left is glioblastoma, and the one on the right is a supratentorial embryonic tumor. The two cancers have vastly different prognoses and treatment strategies.

Images courtesy of Dr. Bonnie Cole / Seattle Children’s Hospital

Traditional methods of diagnosing certain brain cancers in children are deeply flawed, a new study shows. As a result, some children with these particular rare tumors have been getting the wrong diagnoses and, in some cases, the wrong treatment, the researchers say.

The errors were only revealed with the help of new tests that can look at tumor cells’ molecular profiles, said lead scientist Dr. Jim Olson of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He urged his fellow pediatric brain cancer specialists to use such tests to diagnose their young patients to help make sure they receive optimal care. And families of young brain cancer patients, he said, should insist on the tests, which are called DNA methylation profiling.

“The biggest thing coming out of this is that we really need to do genomic analyses at the time of diagnosis for kids with brain tumors,” Olson said. “Tumors that can look exactly alike under a microscope can have very different biology and require entirely different forms of treatment.”

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Dr. Joachim Deeg named Miklos and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary Endowed Chair for Cancer Research

Endowment will support future research for myelodysplastic syndromes

Oct. 18, 2018 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Benefactors Miklos Kohary and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary joke with Dr. Joachim Deeg during his Oct. 15 endowed chair reception at Fred Hutch.

Benefactors Miklos Kohary and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary chat with Dr. Joachim Deeg (left) during his Oct. 15 endowed chair reception at Fred Hutch.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Miklos Kohary had only met with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center physician-scientist Dr. Joachim Deeg a few times when he asked Deeg a key question:

“I asked him, do you believe in the power of the mind?” Kohary recalled at the Oct. 15 evening reception at Fred Hutch at which Deeg was named the first Miklos and Natalia Zimonyi Kohary Endowed Chair for Cancer Research.

“You don’t always know how a physician will respond,” said Kohary, who was seeing Deeg for myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a precancerous disease of the bone marrow. He was facing MDS at the same time as metastatic prostate cancer. “But he said, ‘Absolutely.’ … I told him, together, we’re going to make history.”

Kohary, a Ferrari enthusiast and former professional soccer player, along with his wife, established the endowed chair “Because I believe in my physician … It wasn’t an easy road — it still isn’t. But I’m going to get to the end of it.”

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Dr. Stephanie Lee honored as new Giuliani/Press Endowed Chair recipient

The honor will support Lee in perpetuity as she continues her research on blood stem cell transplantation and chronic GVHD

Oct. 17, 2018 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Endowed chair recipient Dr. Stephanie Lee is flanked by benefactors Patricia and David Giuliani.

Endowed chair recipient Dr. Stephanie Lee is flanked by benefactors Patricia and David Giuliani at the Oct. 12 reception in her honor at Fred Hutch.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch physician-scientist Dr. Stephanie Lee was honored at an Oct. 12 ceremony as the second recipient of the David and Patricia Giuliani/Oliver Press Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. The honor will help support Lee in perpetuity as she continues her research on blood stem cell transplantation and chronic graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD.

“Receiving the chair means so much because of Ollie,” said Lee referring to her predecessor, the late Dr. Oliver Press, at the ceremony held on the Hutch campus. “Everything he did, he did super well, he did it with heart, he did it with meaning, and it mattered. … I’m going try my best to live up to that. And a special thanks to David and to Patricia, incredibly generous people.”

The gathering of research colleagues and family members of Lee and Press, and benefactors David and Patricia Giuliani, was both joyous and bittersweet, noted Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland.

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Forecasting the shape of flu viruses to come

‘Deep mutational scanning’ to make a better flu vaccine

Oct. 16, 2018 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch graduate student Juhye Lee

Fred Hutch graduate student Juhye Lee at work in the Bloom Lab's tissue culture room.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

As millions of Americans line up for their annual flu shots this fall, scientists around the globe are already planning for the next round. How can they change next year’s vaccines to stop the strains of influenza most likely to emerge in 2019?

The effort to pick new vaccines to block ever-evolving flu viruses requires both science and serendipity. Because it takes so long to manufacture the millions of doses required, world flu experts meet twice a year — six months in advance of flu season for the Northern and Southern hemispheres — to pick the best possible match of vaccine to virus. It is high-stakes, educated guesswork.

At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, a team of scientists led by Drs. Jesse Bloom and Trevor Bedford is working to take some of the guesswork out of the process. The team is doing so via a deep analysis of the constant evolutionary changes in the flu virus and by building computer models to anticipate influenza’s next tricky move — like the way weather forecasters use computers to plot the most likely paths of hurricanes.

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Grad student Sarah Hilton among 200 chosen worldwide to attend 2018 Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Annual meeting of the minds exposes Hutch trainee to the diversity of math and computer science

Oct. 12, 2018 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Sarah Hilton

Graduate student Sarah Hilton models protein evolution in the laboratory of Fred Hutch virologist and computational biologist Dr. Jesse Bloom.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

One week, 200 young researchers and more than 30 scientific luminaries: It was the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, an annual meeting of the minds in math and computer science where fledgling scientists can rub shoulders and share ideas with leading scientific thinkers. One of this year’s attendees was Sarah Hilton, who develops computer programs to model protein evolution. Hilton is a graduate student in the laboratory of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center virologist and computational biologist Dr. Jesse Bloom.

“More than anything else, it made me think of really broad topics for a week, and made me pull myself out of the rut of my own thinking and the technical details of my own research,” Hilton said.

Hilton was nominated by the University of Washington Genome Sciences Program to be one of the “young researchers” — undergraduate students, master’s and Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows — chosen to mingle with the “Laureates,” winners of top prizes in math and computing, including the Fields Medal, the Abel Award, the ACM Prize in Computing, and the ACM A.M. Turing Award. Attendees reached across disciplines to discuss past accomplishments and pressing future questions.

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Standard myeloma treatment reveals itself as an immunotherapy

Mouse study shows how transplanting patients’ own healthy blood stem cells can curb cancer, opening door to better treatments

Oct. 9, 2018 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Microscopic image of myeloma cells in a patient's bone marrow.

Myeloma cells (purple) in a patient's bone marrow, with a few normal cells in pink in the background.

Image created by Dr. Teresa Hyun / Fred Hutch

New research suggests that doctors may have had an incorrect understanding of how a standard treatment for an incurable blood cancer works to prolong lives. The therapy, based around high doses of chemotherapy or radiation, looks like it may actually be an immunotherapy — that is, a treatment that stimulates the patients’ own immune systems to help fight their cancers.

The scientists say that these “definitive” and “hitherto unexpected” findings in mice open the door to new strategies to harness and augment this effect and, hopefully, improve treatment outcomes for patients with multiple myeloma.

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