Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating our achievements
Dr. Linda Buck
Nobel laureate Dr. Linda Buck is a neurobiologist in the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutch. Photo by Kevin Wolf / AP Images for HHMI

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:

Dr. Linda Buck elected to Royal Society

Nobel laureate Dr. Linda Buck of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Basic Sciences Division has been elected to the Royal Society as a foreign member. The 2015 fellows were elected Thursday.

The Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of science, was founded in the 1660s to recognize, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. It is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. Each year the society elects up to 52 new fellows and up to 10 new foreign members.

Buck was awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine in 2004, along with Dr. Richard Axel of Columbia University, for her pioneering studies on the sense of smell. They discovered that odor molecules are detected by hundreds of different odor receptor proteins in the nose and showed how signals from those receptors are organized in the nervous system to create diverse odor perceptions.

Buck and her laboratory team at Fred Hutch continue to study the sense of smell, focusing on neural pathways in the brain that govern scent-driven behaviors, such as those related to fear and appetite.

Dr. Cecilia Moens
Dr. Cecilia Moens is a developmental biologist in the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutch. Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

First use of novel gene editing tool to screen for genes’ functions in vertebrates

One of the hallmarks of genetic research is studying mutations in genes — essentially, to understand what a gene does, researchers break it and then look at the cell or animal to see what’s now missing or different.

There are many molecular techniques to “break,” or mutate, genes, but a recently developed gene-editing approach known as CRISPR/Cas9 is drawing attention across many research fields for its speed, efficiency and precision. Unlike most other techniques, which take a scattershot approach to mutation, the CRISPR system allows researchers to change exact gene sequences without altering other regions of the genome.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center developmental biologists Arish Shah, Drs. Adam Miller, Cecilia Moens and their colleagues on April 13 published a paper in the journal Nature Methods describing a CRISPR-based genetic screening method they developed for zebrafish, a model of developmental biology. This is the first method of this kind developed in a vertebrate animal, Moens said.

The researchers demonstrated the power of their technique by uncovering genes involved in how synapses form between neurons in zebrafish embryos. Using a type of CRISPR/Cas9 that allowed eight different genes to be mutated at once in just-fertilized zebrafish eggs, the researchers identified two genes not previously known to play a role in synapse formation. The technique is so efficient that they got those results in just four days, a huge contrast to previous techniques that required months and many more tanks of fish to produce similar results.

The researchers tested 48 genes in this study to demonstrate that the technique works, but it could easily be expanded to hundreds of genes if not more, Moens said. 

Elizabeth Carosso receives Margaret T. Farwell Outstanding Staff Career Contribution Award

Elizabeth Carosso, a project manager for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Thompson Studies Group, has been named the 20th annual winner of the Margaret T. Farwell Outstanding Staff Career Contribution Award.

Elizabeth Carosso
Elizabeth Carosso received the Margaret T. Farwell Award at a recent Public Health Sciences Division staff meeting. Colleague Katherine Briant takes a photo of a surprised Carosso. Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

“Elizabeth is truly remarkable and does her job with aplomb and enthusiasm,” wrote Dr. Beti Thompson, a member of Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division, in her nomination letter. “You would be hard-pressed to find a better proponent of Fred Hutch’s PHS Division. She anticipates needs for all of my projects and is a hard worker who never says ‘no’ to a request. Margaret Farwell would have been very proud of Elizabeth Carosso.”

The annual award, named in honor of PHS’s first division administrator, recognizes non-faculty staff members who have made significant contributions to the division. Farwell, known for her outstanding work and “can-do” spirit, died of pancreatic cancer shortly after her retirement.

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Fred Hutch named Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Business

The League of American Bicyclists has named Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center a Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Business. Fred Hutch joins more than 950 local businesses, government agencies and Fortune 500 companies across the United States in receiving this designation.

“With more than 700 registered bike commuters at Fred Hutch, it’s clear that bike amenities have an impact on a large number of employees,” said Shelly DeRonche, director of Transportation in the Facilities and Operations Department. “Receiving recognition for the program we have is a way for us to show employees, potential recruits and the community locally and nationally what we are doing to support cycling.”

Fred Hutch encourages employees to bike to work by providing storage facilities and locker rooms in many of the buildings. Clothes-drying cabinets also are available for those who brave the elements. They provide an economical and eco-friendly way to dry wet cycling gear.

“Visionary business leaders are recognizing the real-time and long-term impact that a culture of bicycling can create,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “We applaud this new round of businesses for investing in a more sustainable future for the country and a healthier future for their employees.”

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