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Dr. Carl June weaves together HIV and cancer research to advance cures for both

CAR T-cell pioneer and one-time bone marrow transplant fellow will give keynote at HIV cure conference

Aug. 17, 2017 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of Carl June

Immunology researcher Dr. Carl June traces his lifelong fascination with T cells and their biology to his time studying bone marrow transplantation at Fred Hutch.

Photo courtesy of Carl June

University of Pennsylvania immunotherapy researcher Dr. Carl June, who led the development of an experimental therapy for advanced childhood leukemia that is expected to become the first CAR T-cell therapy to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, will give the keynote talk today at the Conference on Cell & Gene Therapy for HIV Cure at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

For June, the occasion — delivering a Fred Hutch talk on HIV research — is a double homecoming. He was a Fred Hutch oncology fellow studying bone marrow transplantation from 1983 to 1986. Then he spent the next 10 years as an HIV researcher in a Navy-funded laboratory before returning to studying cancer.

Today director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the Perelman School of Medicine and a co-director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, June is among a handful of scientists around the world, including here at Fred Hutch, working to develop CAR-T therapies for cancer. These still-experimental therapies genetically reprogram a patients’ own T cells — a type of immune cell that searches out and destroys abnormal or infected cells — with synthetic receptors called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, to kill cancer.

In a phone interview last week from Philadelphia, June called his years at the Hutch “a transformative time” in his career.

“I started research there that has continued into today — a fascination with T cells and their biology,” he said.

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Closing the breast cancer divide in sub-Saharan Africa

Clinical trial in Uganda will test alternative diagnostic tool and oral chemotherapy, study genetic differences

Aug. 15, 2017 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of Dr. Manoj Menon

Dr. Manoj Menon, an oncologist and researcher with Fred Hutch Global Oncology, will co-lead a clinical study on breast cancer in Kampala, Uganda, with Uganda Cancer Institute Director Dr. Jackson Orem.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute are launching a clinical study in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, that could change the way breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa is diagnosed and treated.

The study will test a diagnostic tool that is already widely available throughout the continent to see if it performs as well as the method used in wealthier countries for determining a tumor’s hormone receptor status and other factors that guide treatment options. The study also will assess the feasibility of a three-drug chemotherapy regimen that patients will be able to take orally rather than intravenously.

Both the alternative tool and the oral therapy could have “potentially widespread application” in countries that are making gains against malaria, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases but have limited resources for diagnosing and treating cancer, said oncologist Dr. Manoj Menon. A researcher with Fred Hutch Global Oncology, Menon will co-lead the study with UCI director and oncologist Dr. Jackson Orem. Results are expected in about three years.

The study’s third objective is to use genetic sequencing to look for mutations that may explain why breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa tends to strike younger women and to be especially aggressive — characteristics also seen in breast cancer in African-American women. Tumor tissue samples will be sent for analysis to the laboratory of University of Washington breast cancer geneticist Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the “breast cancer gene,” BRCA1.

“Breast cancer is a huge problem in sub-Saharan Africa, but we don’t know much about the biology,” Menon said.

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2,000 cyclists roll for Fred Hutch at Obliteride

Community unites for research to cure cancer faster

Aug. 15, 2017 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Rebecca Hastings finishes the 25-mile route of Fred Hutch's fifth annual Obliteride at Gas Works Park in Seattle, Washington, August 13, 2017.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

To a chorus of cowbells, clapping hands and the cheers of family and friends, nearly 2,000 bicyclists rolled into Seattle’s Gas Works Park on Sunday, a triumphant finish for this summer’s Fred Hutch Obliteride. The rapidly growing fundraiser has already become a summertime tradition for an inspired and inspiring community dedicated to curing cancer faster.

During the four previous years, Obliteride cyclists raised nearly $9.2 million for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and this weekend’s fifth annual event promises to break all records. Riders this year have already raised more than $2.4 million, 100 percent of which goes to cancer research at the Hutch, and contributions will continue to roll in until September 15.

“All of our lives are affected by cancer, but everyone here has a special story to tell, a special connection with cancer,” said Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland. “Obliteride makes a difference for us. We need these resources to be creative, to be innovative, to think outside the box about how we can develop cures for cancer.”

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New integrated research center launches

Dr. Denise Galloway heads new collaborative center to study prevention and treatment of cancers linked to infectious agents

Aug. 10, 2017 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Denise Galloway

Dr. Denise Galloway will head Fred Hutch's new Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center, a collaborative effort aimed at investigating prevention and treatment of cancers linked to infectious agents.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

So often, a cancer diagnosis comes shrouded in mystery, the malignancy’s precise cause unknowable. But for some cancers, the cause is clear: Certain infectious agents, from human papillomavirus to the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, can directly or indirectly lead to cancer. As many as one in five cancer patients worldwide can trace their disease to a pathogen.

But the source of these cancers may also be their undoing. Knowing exactly what prompts tumor development allows scientists to focus their prevention and treatment research on a specific target.

In The News

Fred Hutch unveils new research center aimed at eliminating cancers caused by infections 
Aug. 10, 2017 | Clare McGrane | GeekWire

New Hutch center to focus on cancers caused by microbes
Aug. 10, 2017 | Sandi Doughton | Seattle Times

Fred Hutch takes step toward 'moonshot' goal with new pathogen-caused cancer center
Aug. 10, 2017 | Coral Garnick | Puget Sound Business Journal
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Fred Hutch Aims to Eliminate Cancers Caused by Infections
Aug. 10, 2017 | Newswise

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is taking advantage of this opportunity and tackling the problem of pathogen-associated malignancies head-on with a focused, collaborative approach. The Hutch’s new Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center will capitalize on deep experience in basic cancer biology, global oncology, immunotherapy, vaccine development and more to seek out improved treatment and prevention strategies.

“Each year, 14 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer, and up to 20 percent of those cancers are caused, directly or indirectly, by viruses and other pathogens,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. “Our goal is to seize the opportunity we now have to lead the way in eliminating that burden — and to advance cures for all cancers.”

Dr. Denise Galloway, whose research helped pave the way for the cancer-preventive HPV vaccine, will direct the new center.

“Not only will [the integrated research center] help us learn more about how to prevent and treat pathogen-associated malignancies and how specific pathogens trigger cancer, but these studies will provide insights that are applicable to the understanding, prevention and treatment of a wide range of cancers,” even those not directly related to pathogens, Galloway said.

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At Obliteride, finding strength amid the fear of cancer

Childhood cancer survivor turned oncology nurse rides to raise money for research

Aug. 7, 2017 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Katie Bunker

Childhood cancer survivor and pediatric oncology nurse Katie Bunker at last year's Obliteride celebration.

Photo courtesy of Katie Bunker

“Cancer” is a scary word, and Katie Bunker learned that at an earlier age than most. At just 12 years old, she was diagnosed with advanced melanoma and endured multiple surgeries — followed by nearly a year of a difficult drug therapy.

More than a decade later, Bunker is looking to transform the darkness of cancer into something positive through Obliteride, a party-packed, bike-riding weekend event in Seattle dedicated to raising money for cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“It’s a whole event dedicated to this word people fear: cancer. And there’s so much empowerment and strength behind that word on that weekend,” said Bunker, 26, who now cares for other children going through cancer as a pediatric oncology nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It can be so dark, but yet so much good can come out of a weekend surrounded by something that can be so painful.”

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Community-building leads to record enrollment in HIV prevention study

Fighting the stigma of HIV among communities of color takes trust — and time

Aug. 4, 2017 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of Keith Richardson, Latifa DaSilva and Vic Sorrell

Keith Richardson, left, a recently hired community engagement coordinator for the Vanderbilt HIV Vaccine Program in Nashville, Tennessee, calls community engagement manager Vic Sorrell, right, his mentor and "one of the most passionate people I've ever met." They made the rounds at Nashville's Gay Pride festival in June with Latifa DaSilva, center, an administrative assistant at Vanderbilt.

Photo courtesy of Katie Jennings / New Canoe Media

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An hour and a half into a rousing Sunday service at the Kingdom Love Worship Center, the Rev. San Jackson paused her preaching to ask Vic Sorrell if he wanted to say a few words.

Sorrell didn’t hesitate. Bounding from his back pew to the pulpit, the white visitor stood before a congregation of African-Americans, their faces politely expectant behind a blur of hand-held fans.

As community engagement manager at the Vanderbilt HIV Vaccine Program, Sorrell gives talks like this many times. But even 36 years into the pandemic, HIV can make for a difficult conversation, one the 39-year-old Sorrell tailors to the audience and the moment, speaking from his heart and trusting he’ll strike the right chord.

“Thank you for being a congregation that says, ‘Come and talk to us,’” he began that June afternoon in East Nashville. “Every one of us is either infected or affected by HIV. The virus knows no color, no socioeconomic status.”

To calls of “Yes!” and “Amen,” Sorrell spoke about an international research study called AMP — for Antibody Mediated Protection — underway at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and other sites around the world. Run by the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is headquartered at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the AMP HIV Prevention Study is enrolling 4,200 volunteers to test an experimental antibody that could potentially protect people from infection by HIV.

The antibody is modeled on one that developed naturally in a person whose immune system had been able to control his HIV infection for years without needing medication, Sorrell explained. Such rare individuals are intensely studied by scientists.

“There’s a chance a vaccine could be created that could cause that antibody response in other people and keep them from getting infected if they are exposed,” he said. “If we had a vaccine, we could truly begin to see the face of HIV changed. Thank you for being willing to support these efforts. Thank you for being the faces of love and community we need.”

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