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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Jan. 19, 2017

Dr. Larry Corey

Dr. Larry Corey

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Larry Corey wins $2.6 million grant to explore using CAR T cells for HIV cure

Fred Hutch virologist and leading HIV researcher Dr. Larry Corey has received a $2.6 million grant from Gilead Sciences Inc. to investigate using CAR T cells — a type of immunotherapy — to bring about a cure or long-term remission for HIV.

“HIV creates such a persistent immune deficiency that one needs to improve the human immune response to develop an approach in which one’s own immune system can control the virus from replicating,” Corey said. “We think that we can bring the technology of genetically altering T cells, as is being used with cancer immunotherapy, to HIV.”

The grant will complement the CAR T-cell research that Corey is leading as part of the federally funded defeatHIV, a public-private research group based at Fred Hutch. The group in July received its second round of funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, allowing it to expand into exploring CAR T and other immunotherapies against HIV.

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Nearly half of U.S. men actively infected with HPV, study finds

HPV-linked cancers on the rise in men, but nearly 9 in 10 vaccine-eligible men are unvaccinated

Jan. 19, 2017 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Graphic of HPV prevalence

Graphic by Jim Woolace / Fred Hutch News Service

The most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. has a bit of a twist.

It’s what’s known as a “subclinical infection” — those infected suffer no immediate consequences, but years later have vastly increased risks for at least six different types of cancer.

That sleeper agent is, of course, human papillomavirus or HPV, the sexually transmitted virus responsible for causing nearly all cervical and anal cancers, as well as a high number of other genital cancers and some oral and head and neck cancers.

Several vaccines are available that can prevent HPV infection — and its associated cancers — but those vaccines aren’t being widely used in this country.

Now, a new study published Thursday in the journal JAMA Oncology points to how common that common STI really is — in men. Approximately 45 percent of U.S. adult males aged 18 to 59 are carrying active genital HPV infections, the researchers found.

That’s nearly 35 million adult men currently infected with the virus in the U.S.

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Capturing information from thousands of cells at once

New technology allows scientists to peek inside nearly 70,000 cells in single experiment

Jan. 16, 2017 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Jason Bielas

Dr. Jason Bielas

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Researchers have developed a new technique that allows them to examine huge amounts of information from a single cell or zoom out and see data patterns among thousands upon thousands of cells — all in a single experiment. In work published Monday in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the biotech company 10x genomics and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center describe their method, which could help researchers dive deep into the ecosystem of cancer or other diseases.

The platform allows researchers to analyze which genes are turned on (and to what level) in tens of thousands of cells at once.

“What the technology allows you to do is to be able to identify different types of cells and how many there are, and also infer what they’re doing based on gene expression,” which could give researchers a better understanding of diseases such as leukemia, noted co-author Dr. Jerald Radich, a Fred Hutch physician-scientist who specializes in leukemia research.

Radich is working with the new technology to gain a better understanding of which cell types contribute to leukemia relapse. Once that’s understood, “you can imagine using it in the clinic as an adjunct to the ways that we look at residual disease [low levels of remaining leukemia cells that can contribute to relapse],” he said.

Fred Hutch’s Dr. Jason Bielas, the paper’s lead author, developed methods and designed the experiments needed to validate the platform, known as the Chromium Single Cell 3’ Solution. He and his team were able to analyze nearly 70,000 cells in a single experiment and use gene expression patterns to group individual cells by type.

Bielas also developed additional methods to detect subtle DNA variations and further expand the technology’s applications. Current methods to detect leukemic cells in patients often rely on surface markers. Using only gene expression information and slight differences in gene sequences, the team was able to distinguish between donor and recipient blood cells in patients who had received bone marrow transplants to treat their leukemia — an important component of patient care after transplant.

“We developed methods that we believe can be used to improve clinical care of cancer patients and save lives, in addition to addressing fundamental questions in biology,” said Bielas, who studies how errors in the genetic code contribute to disease and develops new technologies to address long-standing questions in mutation research.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Jan. 12, 2017

Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil

Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil with the book he co-authored, the authoritative text on tumor avatar models.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil co-authors tumor ‘avatar model’ book

Fred Hutch’s Dr. Rajesh Uthamanthil has recently written a book on tumor avatar models — or make that, the book on tumor avatar models. Also known as “patient-derived xenografts,” or PDX, these mouse models aim to recapitulate tumors’ complexity and individuality more fully than previous preclinical models — cell lines grown from a single type of cancerous cell but passaged multiple times in petri dishes, and mouse models of cancer derived from these cell lines.

As director of the Fred Hutch Comparative Medicine Program, Uthamanthil’s singular focus is making better preclinical models for translational work, he said. As part of that effort, he’s currently leading the Hutch’s PDX Core Program, which is less than a year old and now houses avatar mice that bear tumors taken from patients with many different types of cancer. Recently, Uthamanthil also became interim leader of Fred Hutch's Shared Resources department and said he hopes to channel his passion into leading research resources that provide outstanding services to support science at Hutch.

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New library of HIV mutants could inform vaccine design

Laboratory manipulation of the AIDS-causing virus reveals evolutionary ‘dead-ends’

Jan. 12, 2017 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

HIV

There’s a small collection of test tubes stored in a laboratory freezer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Hundreds of these freezers host thousands of tiny tubes, but this collection is different.

This one houses a multitude of possibilities.

In each tube, suspended in a few drops of water, is a collection of millions of mutant HIV viruses. Some of these mutants are very good at infecting human cells, no different from their “natural” viral ancestor. Some of them are worse.

Together, they can teach researchers something important about HIV in humans, say the collection’s creators, Fred Hutch evolutionary biologists Hugh Haddox and Dr. Jesse Bloom.

In a study published online last month in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the researchers describe their library of mutant HIVs, its creation, and how they used it to show that a certain type of HIV vaccine, designed to elicit the immune molecules known as broadly neutralizing antibodies, could be on the right track.

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Clearing up another mammogram muddle

Confused about the latest breast-cancer screening study? Fred Hutch, SCCA experts have answers

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

Woman looking at mammography screen

A new study out of Denmark has raised questions and concerns about the prevalence of overtreatment in breast cancer patients diagnosed after mammogram. Our experts clear things up.

File photo by Rui Vieira / AP

Barbara Barrett is confused.

The 58-year-old retired teacher and elementary school counselor, who lives outside of Spokane, Washington, is due for a mammogram. But Tuesday’s headlines about mammograms leading to overtreatment in a “third of breast cancer patients” have given her — and thousands of other women across the country — huge cause for concern. 

Yet again.

“I have increased anxiety about what I would do if something were found during my mammogram,” she said. “And I’m definitely confused reading the new info. Is there a way to know whether a tumor found in a mammogram should be treated or left alone?”

The headlines are based on a Danish study and an accompanying commentary by the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Both the study and commentary point to one of mammography’s biggest flaws: Along with picking up aggressive cancers that can go on to kill, they can also pick up slow-growing tumors that may never amount to anything. These “early cancers” include DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) or stage 0 breast cancers that are sometimes, but not always, harmless. 

Unfortunately, we’re not quite yet able to consistently differentiate between the early-stage cancers that kill and the cancers that simply creep along (not to mention creep you out). So some women diagnosed with breast cancer may get, say, a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy. Or get a lumpectomy and radiation for their DCIS when hormonal therapy alone might suffice. Some may even get chemotherapy that they don’t really need because a mammogram has only pointed to cancer — not a crystal clear vision of what the future holds.

Early cancers don’t always advertise their intent. They’re merely diagnosed and treated and sometimes, yes, overtreated. And that’s a huge concern — for cancer patients, for researchers and oncologists and, perhaps most of all, for women like Barbara Barrett who are trying to make health decisions while being inundated by headlines like: “Third of breast cancer patients treated unnecessarily, study says,” and “Time to rethink mammograms, American Cancer Society top doc says.”

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