Four Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center teams win Hartwell Innovation Fund awards

Each team of scientists will receive $80,000 grants to jump-start innovative and high-risk, high-reward research opportunities

Four Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center teams have been awarded Hartwell Innovation Fund pilot grants for 2012-2013. Awards of $80,000 in direct costs will support one-year innovative research projects starting Sept. 1.

Dr. Robert Bradley
Dr. Robert Bradley of PHS is among the Hartwell Innovation Fund recipients. Photo by Stefanie Felix

Hartwell Innovation Fund awards are given annually to jump-start novel research opportunities. The fund was established in 2001 by Craig and Marie Mundie in honor of Center President and Director Emeritus Dr. Lee Hartwell and is supported by private donations.

The Hartwell Innovation Fund is earmarked for innovative and high-risk, high-reward activities that may be difficult to fund through government grants or that need immediate support. Awardees are selected by a faculty committee appointed by the Center director. This year, the committee received 28 applications.

The 2012-2013 funded projects are:

  • Dr. Robert Bradley, Public Health Sciences Division, and Dr. Aravind Ramakrishnan, Clinical Research Division
    Splicing Dysregulation in Myelodysplastic Syndromes
    Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)  is an umbrella term for several diseases in which the bone marrow does not function normally. About one-third of MDS patients will develop acute myeloid leukemia. The biological causes of MDS are unclear, but there are hints that alternative splicing (the processing of RNA molecules by which single genes can produce multiple different proteins) may be misregulated in many cases of this disease. Four genes involved in splicing — SF3B1, U2AF35, ZRSR2 and SC35 — carry the bulk of MDS-related mutations. Bradley and Ramakrishnan propose to test whether these mutations induce global patterns of misregulated splicing that ultimately leads to malfunctions in the bone marrow.
  • Dr. Jonathan Bricker, PHS, and Dr. Julie Kientz, UW Human Centered Design & Engineering
    Innovative Smartphone Application of a New Behavioral Method to Quit Smoking: Development & Usability Testing
    Smoking remains the number one preventable cause of cancer in the United States, despite many interventions and educational programs by government and nonprofit organizations, killing more than 440,000 U.S. adults per year. Bricker, a clinical psychologist, has developed smoking cessation protocols based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) practices that show double the quit rate of traditional smoking interventions. In collaboration with Kientz, an expert on human-centered design, Bricker will develop and test a smartphone ACT-based application to help users quit smoking.
  • Dr. Adam Geballe, Human Biology Division
    Circulating Herpesvirus MicroRNAs
    Human Biology's Dr. Muneesh Tewari and colleagues discovered that microRNAs, the tiny RNA molecules integral to regulating many of our genes, are released by cancer cells and circulate in the blood, giving them the potential to signal the presence of cancer at its earliest stages. Although most viruses do not produce these molecules, several human herpesviruses contain the information for a number of microRNAs in their genome. Geballe, Tewari and Drs. Michael Boeckh and Corey Casper, both of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, aim to search for presence of presence of viral microRNAs, specifically from cytomegalovirus (CMV), Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and Epstein Barr virus (EBV), in the blood of infected people. The presence of these microRNAs in the blood could yield information about the person's disease status and likelihood of viral reactivation.
  • Dr. Stanley Riddell, Clinical Research, and Dr. Stephen Tapscott, Human Biology
    Immune Recognition of DUX4 Related Antigens in FSHD and Cancer
    One of the major challenges of cancer immunotherapy is finding immune targets that are present in cancerous cells but absent in healthy cells. Cancer-testes (CT) antigens are normally expressed only in male germ cells (the precursors to sperm cells), but are erroneously produced in many different types of cancer cells. Tapscott discovered that expression of the protein DUX4 likely triggers facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, the third most common form of inherited muscular dystrophy, and spurs production of CT antigens. Tapscott and Riddell will ask whether DUX4 expression in antigen presenting cells can induce T-cells to recognize CT antigens and mount an immune response against cells bearing those antigens. This approach could lead to a universal cancer vaccine capable of targeting multiple different types of cancer.

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