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HIV researcher Cassandra Simonich receives 2018 Graduate School Medal from University of Washington

Award honors her contributions to research and dedication to improving the lives of medically underserved populations

June 21, 2018 | By Colin Petersdorf / Fred Hutch News Service

Cassandra Simonich in the Overbaugh Lab at Fred Hutch

Cassandra Simonich

Photo by Colin Petersdorf / Fred Hutch News Service

Cassandra Simonich, an M.D./Ph.D. student conducting HIV-vaccine related research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, yesterday received the 2018 Graduate School Medal from the University of Washington.

The Medal, which comes with a $5,000 award, recognizes graduate students in two major arenas: academic contributions and social awareness. It was given to Simonich for both her landmark research in the pathways and development of HIV-combating antibodies and her unwavering commitment to providing accessible health care to underserved members of the greater Seattle community.

“It was incredibly humbling,” said Simonich, who works in the laboratory of Dr. Julie Overbaugh, which focuses on mechanisms of HIV-1 transmission and development.

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5 questions on dengue vaccine analysis

Asked to help re-examine clinical trial data, Fred Hutch biostatisticians foresee a new era of personalized vaccines

June 20, 2018 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Peter Gilbert

Dr. Peter Gilbert is director of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Epidemiology in Fred Hutch's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division and a co-author of the New England Journal of Medicine study of the Sanofi Pasteur dengue vaccine.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Late last year, the developer of the world’s first and so far only dengue vaccine warned that people who had no prior exposure to the mosquito-transmitted virus before being vaccinated were at heightened risk of severe disease should they subsequently be infected by a different dengue strain.

The warning from Sanofi Pasteur — and the World Health Organization recommendation that only those with prior exposure be vaccinated — was based on a new analysis of data from three clinical trials that led to the vaccine’s licensure in late 2015. Biostatisticians from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center contributed new statistical methods as part of this new analysis, which was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The most common mosquito-borne disease in the Americas, dengue flourishes in tropical and subtropical countries. Any one of four closely related dengue viruses can cause a flu-like illness as well as severe dengue disease that is potentially lethal. Those at highest risk of developing severe disease are people who are infected a second time by a different dengue virus strain. In those not previously exposed, one hypothesis is that the vaccine may have had a similar effect as a first infection, raising the risk that a later infection would be severe and more likely to require hospitalization.

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His immune system eradicated his melanoma. Could other patients’ bodies be taught to do the same thing?

How one man’s T cells are guiding the development of next-gen immunotherapies

June 19, 2018 | by Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Photo of Chris Pope and Tawny Bridge-Pope, holding a crab on a fishing boat in the water and smiling

Since an experimental immunotherapy eradicated his stage 4 melanoma, Chris Pope has been focused on enjoying life with his wife Tawny Bridge-Pope. Meanwhile, scientists who studied his extraordinary case have been developing a way to teach other patients' cells to do what his did.

Photo courtesy of Chris Pope

Chris Pope blends easily into the lunchtime crowd, just another person enjoying a sandwich while a cold Northwest drizzle spatters the brewpub windows. His firm handshake and direct demeanor hint at his work as a salesman and a neat gray goatee frames his easy smile.

You’d never guess that in his blood are hiding certain immune cells that have launched the development of a new high-tech strategy for treating cancer.

Just 30 miles south of the waterside spot where Pope and his wife were eating, scientists in a lab at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center were growing immune cells reprogrammed with weaponry borrowed from his.

Would it be possible, those scientists wondered, to genetically engineer the immune systems of other patients to act like Pope’s did when it eradicated his stage 4 melanoma?

From a ‘birthmark’ to a cancer diagnosis

Pope’s ordeal started with, of all things, some routine deck maintenance.

A mark on the edge of his left foot he’d assumed for years was a birthmark started bleeding as he was working. He figured it was nothing, but to be on the safe side, he decided to get it checked out.

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How one protein helps cancer both spread and grow

Hutch scientists discover single molecule’s ‘intricate regulation’ of two key aspects of metastasis

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

EndoA3-overexpressing cell

When cells express more EndoA3, they make more of the finger- and arm-like projections they use to move (seen in green).

Video courtesy of Dr. Raj Poudel and the Bai Lab.

Though a tumor may seem to be a mess of overgrown cells, it cannot spread through the body and spark new tumors without coordinating two different processes: moving cells to a new area, and then increasing their number. In work published today in Developmental Cell, scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have identified a protein called endophilin A3 that, unexpectedly, can help tumors balance these competing needs.  

“When we think about cancers that metastasize, one of the basic principles of what these cells are able to do is they can move really fast to places they shouldn’t go, and then they grow at rates they shouldn’t be growing,” said first author Dr. Raj Poudel, a postdoctoral fellow jointly mentored by Dr. Jihong Bai and Dr. Robert Eisenman, the study’s senior authors.

“What this study does is find something that can affect both those processes, but with very intricate regulation ... So that’s the exciting part, it drives both of the aspects of what we consider physical metastasis.”

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HICOR receives 2-year, $250K award to boost patient engagement

Award to health economics group aims to strengthen the role of patients in research

June 13, 2018 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Patient Laura Rowley participates in HICOR's Value in Cancer Care Fall Patient Partner Meeting at Fred Hutch last September.

Patient Laura Rowley participates in HICOR's Value in Cancer Care Fall Patient Partner Meeting at Fred Hutch last September.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s health economics group, the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, has received a $249,882 two-year award from PCORI, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

The award will be used to enhance patient engagement in HICOR’s community-based cancer care delivery research; the award’s principal investigator is HICOR director and health economist Dr. Scott Ramsey.

“Patient participation in the research process is essential to HICOR’s goals of aligning care with best practices, improving outcomes, and reducing economic burden for patients and their families,” Ramsey said. “We currently engage with a broad network of regional stakeholders, but our patient partners comprise a small subgroup within this network. That makes it difficult for the patient perspective to be adequately represented. This award is a unique and exciting opportunity to strengthen the role of patients in our program and ensure the full benefit of their expertise and perspective.”

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UCI-Fred Hutch collaboration turns 10

In Uganda, innovation and persistence allow a 'sustainable cancer program' to take root

June 12, 2018 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of Dr. Jackson Orem, executive director of the Uganda Cancer Institute

Dr. Jackson Orem, executive director of the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda, addressed Fred Hutch colleagues on the 10th anniversary of the UCI-Fred Hutch collaboration.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Uganda Cancer Institute Executive Director Dr. Jackson Orem once told an African colleague about the partnership he had forged with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. His friend replied, “It’s like you’re collaborating with someone on the moon!”

He wasn’t just talking about the 8,800 miles and 11 time zones that separated the institute in Kampala, Uganda, from the one in Seattle. At the time the alliance began, U.S.-style cancer research and treatment seemed out of this world.

Orem made a rare visit to the Fred Hutch campus last week to celebrate the partnership’s 10th anniversary and reflect on the distance traveled over the last decade.

“Through cooperation and collaboration, by building capacity through training and technology transfer, with engagement with our partners and our government, we are showing that we can have a sustainable cancer program,” he said. “Despite the fact that we are collaborating with people who are living on the moon, we have shown that we can do some work on Earth.”

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