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How the nose knows: Study reveals neural organization behind instinctive reactions to smells

Rodents' responses to social clues linked to unusual subset of neurons

April 27, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Illustration of a woman smelling

How animals respond to social cues may involve a unique set of neurons in the nose, according to a new study led by Fred Hutch's Dr. Linda Buck.

Illustration by Kimberly Carney

Mice and other mammals — people included — have an exquisite ability to sift out different scents. Humans can recognize at least 10,000 different odors, and some animals may detect far more. The neurons that respond to airborne scent molecules, or odorants, can do more than just recognize scents, such as triggering a visceral memory of childhood Thanksgivings or the desire to get away from a rotten stench.

Some scents, especially those emitted from other animals, can cause instinctive behavior.

How mice respond to social cues — instinctive reactions driven by their superb sense of smell — may involve a unique set of neurons in the nose, according to a new study by Fred Hutch biologist and Nobel Laureate Dr. Linda Buck and colleagues.

The study, published April 20 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on a small but unique set of genes involved in scent recognition, known as trace amine-associated receptor, or TAAR, genes, by capturing the molecular details of how and where these genes are turned on and off in the nose.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating our achievements

April 23, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem is a stem cell and gene therapy researcher at Fred Hutch.

Fred Hutch file

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem co-PI on $12.6M grant to study stem cell therapy for HIV

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem is the co-principal investigator for a new, $12.6 million grant over five years from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – a division of the National Institutes of Health – to research next-generation hematopoietic stem cell gene therapy for HIV control and eradication.

A stem cell transplant researcher in the Clinical Research Division, Kiem is co-director of the Fred Hutch-based defeatHIV, a public-private consortium of researchers investigating the use of genetically modified stem cells to cure HIV.

Also co-principal investigator on the new project is Dr. Paula Cannon, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, pediatrics, biochemistry and molecular biology at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and a member of the defeatHIV consortium.

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Life with graft-vs.-host disease: When the transplant is just the beginning

How researchers are trying to combat this common, often debilitating side effect of treatment

April 21, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Greg Grappone

More than two years post-transplant and a year and a half into his debilitating journey with graft-vs.-host disease, Greg Grappone (shown here in his Seattle-area home) is reliant on a walker or wheelchair due to body stiffness, and he can only walk for about 60 seconds at a time because his breathing is so restricted.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Greg Grappone just wants to be a regular dad.

The 35-year-old found out the day after his daughter, Briar, was born in 2012 that he would need a blood stem cell transplant for his cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that attacks the skin.

Although many patients living with CTCL don’t need a transplant, Grappone’s cancer had become particularly aggressive. He had painful rashes covering nearly 80 percent of his body; it hurt him to hold his newborn daughter.

Grappone’s transplant, using cells donated by his sister, went well. And it seems to have cured his cancer.

But six months after the procedure, his legs started to swell, the first clue that his sister’s immune cells were attacking not only his disease but healthy parts of his body, too, a condition known as chronic graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD.

Stem cell transplants’ power to cure disease comes from the ability of the donor cells to recognize cancerous cells as foreign and then attack them. But too often, the new cells don’t know to limit their attack to cancer and wreak havoc on other organs as well. The rogue immune cells can attack the skin, digestive system, liver, lungs, connective tissues and eyes. Doctors used to think that a modest amount of GVHD was an important sign that the transplant was working, but recent studies show that this potentially dangerous side effect may not be necessary after all.

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Carrying on his grandfather's legacy

Scott Hutchinson, grandson of Fred Hutch founder, gives back by volunteering at the Hutch

April 20, 2015 | By Scott Hutchinson, as told to Susan Keown

John Hutchinson (Scott's father) and Scott Hutchinson with William Hutchinson (Scott's son) in a Fred Hutch lab

John Hutchinson (Scott's father) and Scott Hutchinson with William Hutchinson (Scott's son) in a Fred Hutch lab in 2013.

Photo courtesy of the Hutchinson family

Scott Hutchinson’s grandfather, Dr. Bill Hutchinson, founded Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center after his brother, the acclaimed baseball player and manager, died of lung cancer.

I grew up in Idaho with limited exposure to the Hutch ― all I really knew was that it was a place where Grandpa Hutch tried to find ways to help people get better. When I moved to Seattle in 1999, my tangible exposure to my family legacy began when I lived with my Grandma Hutch. We would sit together for hours with her telling me stories and showing me photos of Fred and my grandfather. When I had the opportunity to join the Hutch Award committee, I jumped at it because I knew I wanted to get involved to see what the Hutch was all about. Helping others is something that I’ve learned from the beginning from my family, but I never really knew how to give back and carry on my grandfather’s legacy until I started volunteering at the Hutch.

I remember a day at a family reunion in Idaho, when I was about 7 years old. As soon as lunch was cleared from the table, my grandfather’s black bag came out. My Aunt Mary set her arm down on the table, and my grandfather proceeded to cut her open and remove a fatty tumor from her arm ― in the middle of a family reunion, with kids running around! I was super intrigued with what he was doing ― and nauseous ― and from that moment, I wanted to be a doctor. But in college, I became intrigued by the financial world, mostly through working with my father.

My grandfather told me, “Not that you wouldn’t make a good doctor, but it’s about your heart, it’s not about anything else. You have to love this.” He was beautiful in his message, something I’m sure his patients experienced.

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'Have we come a long way'

A bench, a book and a mother’s memories of her son’s 1983 bone marrow transplant

April 17, 2015 | By Linda Gontko, as told to Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

A bench serves as the touchstone for a mother's memories of her son's 1983 transplant

"Wouldn't it be nice if there was a bench we could sit on, and a plaque that said, 'I went HOME,'" mused Linda Donnelly Gontko's son, Chip (plaque and senior class photo, inset), who underwent a transplant for leukemia at Fred Hutch in 1983 at age 18.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Linda Donnelly Gontko called Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in March with a special request. She was visiting Seattle and wondered if we could help her find a bench that had been donated in gratitude for her late son’s treatment here in 1983. Yes, we could, and did.

Diagnosed with leukemia shortly before his 18th birthday, Gontko’s son, Chip, received a bone marrow transplant in the early, harrowing days of transplantation. Fred Hutch had then been located in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood, and that’s where the original bench was installed. When the Hutch moved to its South Lake Union campus, a new bench was placed in Mundie Courtyard. The wording on the plaque – written by Chip – is the same.

Seeing the bench was “grand” Gontko said, as she was touring Fred Hutch and its treatment arm, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Afterwards, in a phone conversation filled with laughter and tears, she shared her story.

When Chip was growing up we lived in Saginaw, Michigan. That’s where he went to school and graduated, and where he died. Now we live on Lake Huron in the summer, at Point Lookout. He would have loved the lake house!

I was a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual for almost 50 years. I didn’t work full-time for three or four years when the kids were small. We had three children: Chip, Mark and our daughter Debra.

Chip was my first-born. He was my difficult child. He and I never seemed to see eye to eye. He was rebellious and determined.

On my 40th birthday in December 1982, my husband, Larry, threw a little surprise party in the basement. I had Chip’s senior class picture on the piano. It was taken in August. Our friend Bob, who had moved to Florida and was in town for Christmas, said, “What a handsome looking kid!” Then Chip came downstairs, and Bob says, “Oh my gosh Chip, you don’t look at all like your picture!” It was December 27.

In the third week in January 1983, Chip had been having pain in his legs and back. He did not attend school and I decided to stay home with him. I was dusting the piano, looking over at him on the couch, and that sentence came back to me. “Chip, you don’t look at all like your picture.” And my heart sank to my ankles. I said, “What’s going on? You don’t look like your picture.” He jumped from the couch and showed me his belt still fit him. But he really did look pale and weak, and I was concerned.

My brother Denny died of leukemia when I was 7 years old. He was 12 when he was diagnosed. He lived three months. He was my mother’s first son, her mother’s first grandchild. I am the oldest daughter of 13.

My husband was already going to the doctor. And so having lived through this with Denny, I said, “Take Chip with you. Have Doc run a blood test.” Then I got a phone call at my office the next day, and they said, “We want to run another blood test.” That really concerned me and it was a long weekend. By the time Monday came around, they called and said, “It is acute myeloid leukemia.”

That was the beginning. 

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Good news at Fred Hutch

Celebrating our achievements

April 16, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Jonathan Bricker

Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at Fred Hutch, demonstrating his smartphone app.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

We want to recognize the excellent work and achievements of our staff and faculty and will be regularly highlighting them in this space. Here are some recent notable accomplishments:

Vote today: Dr. Jonathan Bricker a finalist for ‘Geek of the Year Award' for using technology to make a positive impact

Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at Fred Hutch who studies acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, to help people quit smoking and other unhealthy behaviors, has been selected as one of five finalists for GeekWire's annual “Geek of the Year Award" for using technology to make a positive impact.

Community online voting for the Geek of the Year Award begins today. Click here to cast your vote and rally others to vote for this special award. Tweets, Facebook and blog posts are encouraged. Hashtag: #gwawards.

An internationally recognized scientific leader in ACT, Bricker and his colleagues in the Public Health Sciences Division have received more than $10 million in federal research funding to build smoking-cessation programs around ACT and test them in randomized, controlled trials via multiple platforms, from telephone coaching sessions to a Web-based tool called to smartphone apps. Preliminary studies show that Bricker’s programs are 50 to 300 percent more effective than traditional quit-smoking approaches. Evidence suggests the ACT model could help adults cope with many other addictions and harmful behaviors. For more about Bricker’s work, check out his TEDxRainier talk about “The Secret to Self Control.”

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