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Filling in the gaps on an ‘understudied population’

First-ever estimate of women living with metastatic breast cancer shows these patients are living longer with disease

May 17, 2017 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Bridgette Hempstead

Metastatic breast cancer patient and advocate Bridgette Hempstead said she wasn't surprised to learn women are living longer with metastatic disease. “I met a metastatic breast cancer patient who had been in treatment for 18 years,” she said.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have used a “mathematical recipe” to solve a longstanding puzzle: How many women in the U.S. are currently living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).  

Published this week in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the study estimates that as of January 2017 there are nearly 155,000 women living with the disease in the U.S., a quarter of whom were diagnosed from the very start with advanced cancer — known as de novo — and three quarters who progressed to MBC from early stage disease.

This is the first time the number of women living with MBC has been estimated, and it is part of an ongoing effort by the NCI to provide data on what it calls an “understudied population.”

All told, 3.5 million U.S. women have a history of breast cancer — from those who were just diagnosed, to those who’ve gone through treatment for early stage disease, to those who were initially or eventually diagnosed with MBC.

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‘We don’t have to wait until we get sick’

Chef and food activist Alice Waters, this year’s Premier Chefs Dinner keynote speaker, on the threads that link diet, health, education

May 15, 2017 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Chef, food activist and author Alice Waters

Chef, author, restaurateur and food activist Alice Waters will visit Seattle this week as the keynote speaker of the 2017 Premier Chefs Dinner.

Photo by Amanda Marsalis

Alice Waters wants you to ask more questions before you take your next bite of food.

In a society that’s increasingly “at the mercy of fast food culture,” we need to demand transparency about what we eat, said Waters, a world-renowned chef, author, activist and owner of the 46-year-old Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California.

When we go to a restaurant or eat prepared food, Waters wants everyone to ask: Where is this food from? Who grew it? How does the grower or producer define terms that might be important to us, like “grass-fed” or “cage-free”? And if answers are not forthcoming, she said, then we need to bypass prepared foods entirely and do more cooking ourselves.

“We are not only what we eat but how we eat,” she said.

Many of us are used to thinking about the ties between what and how much we eat and our health, but Waters believes we need to think more broadly. She is concerned with the entire chain of production — from soil to sit-down dinner. It’s not just a question of fixing our health and using diet as preventive medicine, as important as those are. For Waters, it’s a question of fixing everything.

The conversation is taking place “within the medicine world rather than in the place of culture and agriculture, and I think those need to be emphasized,” she said. “The real health begins in the ground.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

May 12, 2017 | By Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service

Fluorescent staining of an isocitrate dehydrogenase-mutant cholangiocarcinoma tumor developed in a mouse model.

Dr. Supriya Saha of the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutch and the University of Washington School of Medicine received pilot award funding from Safeway Inc. for a study to identify new therapies for a deadly form of liver cancer called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. This image from his lab shows fluorescent staining of an isocitrate dehydrogenase-mutant cholangiocarcinoma tumor developed in a mouse model.

Image courtesy of Dr. Supriya Saha / Fred Hutch

Eight Fred Hutch/UW researchers receive pilot awards 

Eight Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists, many of whom have joint appointments at the University of Washington, have received funding for pilot projects to explore highly innovative concepts that have the potential to improve the lives of cancer patients.

A combination of funding from the Fred Hutch / UW Cancer Consortium’s Cancer Center Support Grant and donor funding from Safeway Inc. will provide the researchers with at least $80,000 for their projects.

“Thanks to generous contributions made by customers in stores, Safeway provided nearly $700,000 to support cutting-edge research by early-stage investigators at Fred Hutch and UW,” said Dr. Elizabeth Prescott, director of Institutional Giving at the Hutch. The Cancer Center Support Grant expects to award additional Safeway-supported pilot awards in the coming year, she said.

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'I'm here for my mom'

Reflections by and about mothers from visitors to Fred Hutch

May 12, 2017 | Fred Hutch News Service

"I'm here because ... "

The walls of the Fred Hutch Visitor Center are covered with cards left by visitors to campus, a mosaic of stories about what brings people to the Hutch. At the heart of many of these stories are mothers.

by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Are you interested in reprinting or republishing this story? Be our guest! We want to help connect people with the information they need. We just ask that you link back to the original article, preserve the author’s byline and refrain from making edits that alter the original context. Questions? Email us at

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A legacy of learning

Former Fred Hutch IT expert, whose own education was cut short, leaves funds used to establish an endowment to help young scientists continue theirs

May 11, 2017 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

The Chen family

"Our parents instilled in us the value of education," said Dr. Chu Chen, shown in this old family photo standing behind her parents and two brothers, Ming-Tau (left) and Yeuliang (center front). Chen came to the U.S. at the age of 23 to pursue a graduate education. Her brother, Yeuliang, did the same, but his dream of becoming a professor was dashed by a stroke.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Chu Chen

To his colleagues at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Yeuliang Chen was a bright, dedicated IT guy who rose through the administrative ranks to become a highly valued software engineer, systems analyst and programmer.

To Fred Hutch epidemiologist Dr. Chu Chen, he was something else: a rebellious teen who grew his hair long and started a band when the Beatles phenomenon hit regimented Taiwan; an honors student who traveled to the U.S. with nothing but a suitcase and a dream of winning a Nobel Prize.

Most of all, he was a brilliant, beloved little brother who bootstrapped his way back from a debilitating stroke in his early 30s only to have his life cut short two decades later by a rare, untreatable cancer.

But the story of Yeuliang is not a tragedy. It is, rather, a celebration — of life, of dreams and of love.

Yeuliang loved his family, loved his supportive colleagues at Fred Hutch and, perhaps most of all, loved learning. So much so that, after his death, his life’s savings were used to launch the Chen Hu Family Endowed Fund, which will help young scientists continue to learn and share their discoveries with others. 

“He was always very loyal to the Hutch, just like me,” said Chen who has worked in Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division since 1983. “But it would not be good to say [this fund is] to honor Yeuliang. That was the last thing he would want. When Yeuliang died, he gave all his money to me and my brother and he said, ‘I hope a portion of it can be used to set up an endowed fund for research to honor our parents.’ Honoring our parents was very important to him.”

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Malaria during pregnancy can alter babies’ immunity

Mothers infected with the mosquito-borne parasite during pregnancy can pass more of their own cells to their offspring and change their babies’ risk of later infection, new study shows

May 8, 2017 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Illustration by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

Pregnancy is weird, in so many ways. Perhaps most bizarre of all is the fact that women grow an entirely new organ for short-term use, the placenta.

This large, liver-colored organ has multiple jobs, providing both nourishment and protection to the growing fetus. It allows easy entry for some passengers — oxygen and nutrition — and keeps others out, such as some infectious agents. And it allows a unique exchange of cells between mother and child, known as “microchimerism.”

Now comes a suggestion of a new role, at least in mothers infected with malaria during pregnancy. When the mosquito-borne parasite known as malaria infects the placenta, it can have lasting, unexpected effects, according to a new study from researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and their colleagues.

The research team, led by University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Whitney Harrington working with Fred Hutch microchimerism researcher Dr. J. Lee Nelson, looked at how malaria can alter the mother-child cell sharing that happens during pregnancy. While most of us carry a very small number of foreign cells acquired from our mothers — on the order of a few maternal cells per every 100,000 of our own — the researchers found that babies born to Tanzanian mothers infected with malaria during pregnancy and whose infections had traveled to their placentas had evidence for far more maternal cells on board at the time of their births. 

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