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First HIV, then cancer

As people with HIV live longer, they are developing cancers at higher rates than the general population

Oct. 5, 2015 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Bill Hall

Bill Hall has lived with HIV since 1986. Seven years ago, he learned he also has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Bill Hall had seen the grim photos in newspapers and magazines of gay men dying of AIDS. So when he tested positive for HIV in June 1986, he assumed he had been sentenced to death.

The next 10 years were a blur of visiting friends in the hospital and going to funerals. Hall outlived the members of four support groups. Then he began taking first the drug AZT and, after 1996, an antiretroviral cocktail that kept the virus in check.

He survived.

One day about seven years ago – after more than a decade on treatment – Hall was brushing his teeth in his Seattle apartment and saw a lot of blood in the sink. He went to the dental clinic at Harborview Medical Center, where the dentist took a biopsy of an abscess in his lower gum.

A few weeks later, he had a new diagnosis: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I just sat there and zoned out. I don’t even remember walking home,” said Hall, now 62, recalling his shock at being handed what he thought was a second death sentence. “It was like when I found out I was HIV-positive.”

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'Every step was for them'

Over 1,200 climb the Space Needle to raise crucial research funds for Fred Hutch

Oct. 5, 2015 | By Megan Herndon / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Maika D'Ambrosi with Fred Hutch's Dr. Jonathan Bricker

Psychologist Dr. Maika D'Ambrosi, left, and Fred Hutch's Dr. Jonathan Bricker enjoy the view after finishing the inaugural climb to the top of the Space Needle to raise money for cancer research.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer survivors, community members and other supporters of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center ascended 832 steps for cancer research this Saturday at the inaugural Base 2 Space Climb.

For the first time ever, the open-air staircase to the top of the iconic Seattle landmark was opened to the public, offering climbers a panoramic view of the city as they spiraled up 52 stories in brilliant October sunshine.

Dave Mandapat, the Space Needle’s director of public relations, said the organization wants the Needle, built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, to be more than a hometown icon: they want to be a neighbor and community partner. Toward that end, they chose Fred Hutch to support with their inaugural climb because it is a local organization with global impact.

“Fred Hutch is doing amazing things on not only a local scale but also on an international scale,” he said. “[Supporting] a local organization that's doing amazing things for all of mankind was important to us.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

CTI BioPharma and Fred Hutch announce international research fellowship in blood cancers; Dr. Julie Overbaugh receives $2.5M NIDA grant for HIV research; Dr. Johnnie Orozco wins grant to develop less-toxic cancer treatment; Dr. Philip Greenberg named editor-in-chief of Cancer Immunology Research; CFO Randy Main receives AIRI lifetime achievement award

Oct. 1, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Gary Gilliland and Dr. James Bianco

Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland (left) with CTI BioPharma President and CEO Dr. James Bianco at a recent bell-ringing ceremony at the Hutch to commemorate the new $1.5 million research endowment to support international collaboration in blood cancer research.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

CTI BioPharma and Fred Hutch announce international research fellowship to support blood-cancer research

Seattle-based CTI BioPharma Corp. and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center today announced the establishment of a new $1.5 million research endowment fund – The CTI BioPharma International Postdoctoral Research Fellowship – intended to foster international collaboration in translational research andsupport advancements in the fields of hematology and immunobiology.    

The CTI BioPharma fellowship and endowment fund was established in memory of Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, a pioneering Fred Hutch clinical researcher and Nobel laureate who pioneered bone-marrow transplantation to treat leukemias and other blood cancers.

“Establishing this endowed international visiting fellowship to Fred Hutch stems from our commitment to translate scientific discoveries into innovative therapies that cure patients with blood-related cancers,” said Dr. James A. Bianco, co-founder, president and CEO of CTI BioPharma who himself was a research fellow at Fred Hutch, working alongside Thomas in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “After all, changing the future of cancer medicine starts with the support of today’s innovative ideas,” he said.

This fellowship and endowment will provide seed funding to support the research efforts of promising, young physician-researchers from around the world. Fred Hutch will receive endowment funding over three years to identify and select proposed research projects from medical researchers currently working at international institutions based outside of the U.S. Both CTI BioPharma and other institutions or organizations can donate additional funding to the endowment at any time, per the approval of Fred Hutch.

“Endowment funding is essential to keeping our research and clinical programs moving forward in order to find new cures and save lives,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. “Support, such as through the establishment of this CTI BioPharma fellowship and endowment fund, allows doctors and scientists to develop and manage their programs and to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Without the support from companies such as CTI BioPharma, many potential lifesaving medicines would not make it from the research bench to patients.”

For more information about the endowment or to apply or to review the selection criteria, please visit

Dr. Julie Overbaugh

Dr. Julie Overbaugh

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Julie Overbaugh receives $2.5 million NIDA grant to create more relevant model of HIV

Dr. Julie Overbaugh, a researcher in Fred Hutch's Human Biology Division, has been named a Director’s Pioneer Avant-Garde Scientist by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The honor comes with a $2.5 million grant, which she will use to explore the barriers to developing a preclinical model of HIV infection that better mimics the human infection and immune response.

Avant-Garde Awards provide scientists “a lot of flexibility that allows us to identify gaps [in our knowledge] and what we might bring to these problems that you don’t get to do with other grants,” Overbaugh said. The grants are awarded to scientists exploring new areas of research related to drug abuse and are designed to allow for maximum creativity and flexibility for the scientist.

The envelope protein of the human and simian hybrid viruses used in lab models of HIV infection, known as SHIVs, differ in key ways from the envelope proteins in HIV variants that circulate in humans. Overbaugh proposes to develop a better HIV model that will give researchers the relevant information they need to build a truly effective vaccine.

Previously, Overbaugh's team had compared the envelope protein of HIV and lab-adapted SHIV and  pinpointed key molecular differences in these proteins, as well as the target molecules they use to infect cells. These alterations allow lab-adapted SHIV strains, but not the original HIV, to easily infect cells in the preclinical model. Overbaugh proposes several strategies for generating a model of HIV that better mimics human infection, including identifying possible mutations in the envelope gene that enhance infection in the lab without sacrificing key immune-stimulating properties. She and her colleagues also plan to explore the usefulness of other model organisms.

This work builds on her long-standing efforts to define the mechanisms of HIV transmission. “We want to make sure models for HIV prevention and vaccine development capture the biology of HIV infection in humans so that findings from them translate prevention HIV efforts in humans,” she said.

Dr. Johnnie Orozco

Dr. Johnnie Orozco

Fred Hutch file

Dr. Johnnie Orozco wins grant to develop less-toxic cancer treatment

Dr. Johnnie Orozco has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to support the preclinical development of a less-toxic method to prepare patients for a transplant of blood-forming stem cells.

Although transplants of such stem cells are often the best treatment option for advanced blood diseases, such as leukemia, current regimens use highly toxic total-body irradiation and high-dose chemotherapy as a pre-transplant treatment to wipe out the patient’s faulty stem cells in the bone marrow.

Orozco, a clinical research associate in the Fred Hutch lab of Dr. Oliver Press, uses mouse models to study a much more targeted form of irradiation called alpha radioimmunotherapy. This treatment could offer patients better outcomes after transplantation by reducing toxicity associated with total-body irradiation. It works through the delivery of radioactive isotopes straight to a patient’s diseased bone marrow. The radioactive isotopes are designed to deliver a powerful yet focused dose of radiation only to targeted cancer cells, leaving healthy organs untouched.

“Targeted therapies are often better tolerated than systemic therapies and usually equally effective if not more effective,” Orozco said.

With this project, Orozco aims to compare the effectiveness and safety of this new approach to that of less-targeted forms of irradiation, determine the lowest effective dose, and characterize the mechanisms through which the radioactive molecules kill target cells.

“This is yet another example of innovative, novel approaches to treat blood cancers,” he said. Orozco expects his findings to inform the design of clinical trials of alpha radioimmunotherapies for blood cancers that are being developed by Fred Hutch colleagues under a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute announced earlier this year.

Orozco’s project is in the context of haploidentical, or partially matched, transplantation, in which transplant donor and recipient do not share all of the genetic markers used for matching. Haploidentical transplantation is particularly important for the many people of racial and ethnic backgrounds who are in need of a transplant but cannot find a fully matched donor among the disproportionately non-Hispanic white donors in transplant registries.

The $845,000 award is a career-development grant for researchers from backgrounds that are underrepresented in science. It aims to support the research of early-career investigators until they can successfully win their first large-scale, independent research award and to increase the diversity of the cancer research workforce. Press is Orozco’s mentor for this grant.

Dr. Philip Greenberg

Dr. Philip Greenberg

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Philip Greenberg named editor-in-chief of Cancer Immunology Research

Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of the Immunology Program at Fred Hutch, has been named editor-in-chief of Cancer Immunology Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. He joins newly appointed fellow editor-in-chief Dr. Robert Schreiber in setting goals and determining editorial strategy for the journal.

“Cancer Immunology Research has as its goal becoming the publication forum for the breadth of investigators and clinicians engaged in or interested in immunology, particularly as it relates to cancer,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg and Schreiber succeed Dr. Glenn Dranoff as the founding editor-in-chief of the journal, which AACR launched in 2013.

Greenberg, also a professor of medicine and oncology at the University of Washington, has dedicated his career to understanding the fundamental principles underlying a T cell’s ability to recognize and eliminate tumor cells, to distinguish cancer cells from normal cells, and to maintain function in the tumor microenvironment.  His lab, based in Fred Hutch’s Clinical Research Division, develops cellular and molecular approaches to manipulate cellular immunity and overcome obstacles to effective immunotherapy. He and his colleagues are translating their findings in the lab to the treatment of cancer patients, with a particular emphasis on adoptive therapy with genetically engineered T cells.

Greenberg’s honors include the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute and the Team Science Award for Career Achievements from the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer, among many others.

CFO Randy Main and colleagues at the annual AIRI meeting in Washington, D.C.

Left to right: Dr. Gregory M.L. Patterson, outgoing AIRI president and vice president for Research Operations, Texas Biomedical Research Institute; Fred Hutch CFO Randy Main; Cary E. Thomas, incoming AIRI president and senior vice president of The Scripps Research Institute; and Lari C. Russo, CPA, AIRI president-elect and CFO, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; at the annual AIRI meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this week.

Photo courtesy of AIRI

Fred Hutch CFO Randy Main receives AIRI John Pratt Lifetime Achievement Award

Fred Hutch Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Randy Main on Wednesday received the 2015 John Pratt Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Research Institutes, or AIRI, in Washington, D.C.

The AIRI board of directors established the award “in recognition of the dedication and service to AIRI by someone who has displayed unique qualities and longstanding commitment that have significantly contributed to the strength, influence and stature of AIRI.”

Main has served AIRI in many capacities over the years, including president and treasurer. He also has played crucial roles on its government affairs, budget and investments and program-planning committees.

Main has been Fred Hutch's CFO since 1984 and has broad responsibility for all financial operations, capital structure and expense management.

He is a board member and treasurer of the Seattle Institute for Biomedical and Clinical Research, is a board member of Labkey Software Inc., is a past board member and treasurer of the Association of American Cancer Institutes, and is a past board member of the Washington State Tobacco Settlement Authority, which is authorized by the state legislature to securitize future revenues from the settlement agreement with the tobacco industry.

Main's awards and honors include being named Chief Financial Officer Year by the Puget Sound Business Journal for his financial stewardship of the Hutch.

Testing without context

Nearly two-thirds of women who get tested for BRCA mutations don’t receive genetic counseling first

Oct. 1, 2015 | by Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Angelina Jolie

The number of women seeking genetic testing has increased since 2011, due in large part to Angelina Jolie's public announcement of her BRCA1 status. A new study has found that many women who get genetic testing are not receiving genetic counseling beforehand.

File photo by Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Despite recommendations, most women who undergo genetic testing to help determine their risk of hereditary breast cancer do not receive counseling by a trained genetic professional beforehand, according to a study published online today in JAMA Oncology.

The study, led by Dr. Rebecca Sutphen of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, found that only about 37 percent of 3,628 women received genetic counseling from a genetic clinician prior to testing. Those who received the counseling were more than twice as likely to meet current national guidelines on who should be tested and also showed a better understanding of what the test results meant.

Mercy Laurino, a genetic counselor in the Cancer Prevention Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, who was not associated with the study, said pre-test counseling is key for both educational and psychosocial reasons.

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Doctor, researcher, patient and pathfinder

Dr. Paul Neiman reflects on 40 years of leadership, collaboration and curiosity

Sept. 28, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Composite of Dr. Paul Neiman

Dr. Paul Neiman has played many roles at Fred Hutch since its inception 40 years ago. When Neiman retired from research, his friend Dr. Ron Reeder created a composite photo of the researcher and physician in the laboratory to capture the spirit of his many contributions.

Photo by Dr. Ron Reeder

In the first floor lobby of the Weintraub Building, which houses Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s basic science research groups, there’s a picture of a laboratory crowded with people.

Or rather, one person — it’s a quirky composite photo of Dr. Paul Neiman, digitally created by his friend and former colleague Dr. Ron Reeder.

“It’s Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul,” laughed Dr. Ann Reynolds, a Fred Hutch librarian who’s worked with Neiman on several archive and history projects. “That says it right there. Paul’s been involved in so much at the Hutch in addition to his science.”

The picture was unveiled at Neiman’s retirement party in 2009, the same time that the sky-lit lobby where the picture hangs was dubbed the Paul Neiman Atrium.

But Neiman knows a longer backstory of the space that now bears his name.

“You know, this atrium was never supposed to be here,” said the 76-year-old molecular biologist and transplant doctor on a recent visit to the building — and campus — he helped shape as the Hutch’s former scientific director and founder of one of its core scientific divisions.

When the research center moved from its original single-building home in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood to its current campus in South Lake Union in 1993, Neiman helped direct the planning for what would become the Weintraub Building.

He wanted common spaces in the center of every one of the building’s six floors, he said, where researchers could congregate to catch up, brainstorm ideas and otherwise get a fresh perspective on their research outside of their laboratories. It was an idea emblematic of the informal, unenforced but historically successful spirit of scientific collaboration that’s pretty much the epitome of the building’s Basic Sciences Division.

Unfortunately, the six common areas were deemed unsafe in case of fire during construction, so the builders eliminated all but the ground-floor lobby in the building’s atrium.

“[Current Basic Sciences Division director] Jon Cooper used to call this the Neiman Shaft,” joked Neiman.

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HIV’s unusual family tree

How the virus leapt from monkeys to chimps to humans, and why it doesn’t happen more often

Sept. 25, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service


A new study on the evolutionary biology of HIV, SIV and chimp genes by Fred Hutch virologist Dr. Michael Emerman sheds light on how a critical immune blockade may have been breached, just once, to allow the HIV precursor to leap from monkeys to chimps.

Photo courtesy of FeaturePics

When epidemiologists talk about HIV, the numbers are staggering. An estimated 34 million people around the world were living with HIV in 2011, according to a report from the United Nations.

But evolutionary biologists are concerned with smaller figures.

Two: the number of HIV precursor strains that merged their genetic material inside a chimpanzee to create a much more virulent bug, deadly to chimps — and which ultimately spawned HIV.

One: the unfortunate chimp first infected with that new virus, known as simian immunodeficiency virus cpz, or SIVcpz.

Four: the number of times HIV jumped from chimp to human. HIV likely arose from blood contact when humans handled bushmeat from SIV-infected apes.

In some ways it’s surprising that HIV’s chimp precursor hasn’t cropped up more often, said Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center virologist Dr. Michael Emerman.

The birth of SIVcpz “was a very unusual event, because it only happened one time that we know of in evolutionary history,” said Emerman, who studies the viral, chimp and human evolutionary steps that ultimately allowed HIV to come into the world. “And we know that there are lots of exposures, because chimpanzees eat a lot of monkeys and a lot of these monkeys have their own version of these SIVs.”

In a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Pathogens, Emerman and his colleagues describe their findings on the chimp genes that may normally protect chimps from monkey-borne SIVs — and could be the critical immune blockade that was breached only once, when SIVcpz arose. Emerman led the study along with Dr. Lucie Etienne, a former Fred Hutch postdoctoral fellow who now leads a virology research team at the International Center for Infectiology Research in Lyon, France.

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