Good News at Fred Hutch

Dr. Peter Nelson principal researcher on prostate cancer 'Dream Team'; Dr. Kathi Malone honored by Komen Puget Sound; Dr. Eric Chow leads study of cardioprotective drug that addresses chemo concerns in children; and Dr. Linda Buck receives honorary doctorate from Harvard
Dr. Peter Nelson
Dr. Peter Nelson is a principal researcher on the Stand Up to Cancer Prostate Cancer Foundation Dream Team. Fred Hutch file

Dr. Peter Nelson is principal researcher on Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team that charts genomic landscape of advanced prostate cancer

An international, multi-institution Stand Up to Cancer Prostate Cancer Foundation Dream Team published findings May 21 in Cell that hold promise for advancing precision medicine for men with advanced prostate cancer.

Dr. Peter Nelson, a prostate cancer researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is a principal researcher on the Dream Team, which includes scientists from Fred Hutch and the University of Washington, among other institutions.

The researchers sequenced the DNA and RNA of tumor-biopsy samples from 150 men with metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer – an advanced form of the disease that has stopped responding to standard hormone-based therapies. They found that approximately 90 percent of the tumor specimens harbored some kind of genetic anomaly that was “clinically actionable,” meaning that treatments may already exist to target those aberrations.

“There are several notable and exciting results from this study,” Nelson said. “First, we demonstrated that biopsies can be routinely obtained from patients with a metastatic solid tumor and that these biopsies yield high-quality information. Second, these advanced prostate cancers have a wide spectrum of genomic aberrations; the study now provides a road map for drug development,” he said. “Third, and very importantly, different tumors have different driver aberrations, meaning that you would not want to treat each patient the same way. The genetic information clearly points to specific targets that should be prioritized in an individual patient.”

For example, 14 percent of patients had a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which is already known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. This suggests that a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, already approved for treating BRCA-positive ovarian cancer, might also be effective against prostate cancers with this type of gene mutation.

The researchers found that nearly all of the tumors had a genetic mutation known to drive cancer growth. The most common, found in nearly two-thirds of the patients, were aberrations in the androgen receptor. This was expected to some extent since the hallmark of advanced prostate cancer is that it no longer responds to conventional androgen-blocking therapies.

While previous studies have looked at the genomic landscape of clinically localized prostate cancer, this is the first such study to focus on advanced prostate cancer.

In addition to Nelson, other team members from Fred Hutch include Drs. Elahe Mostaghel, Robert Bradley and Heidi Dvinge; team members from UW include Drs. Bruce Montgomery, Colin Pritchard, Heather Cheng, Evan Yu, Steve Plymate and Larry True.

More information can be found here.

Dr. Kathi Malone
Dr. Kathi Malone has received Komen Puget Sound's "Promise of One" volunteer award. Photo by Russell Cederberg

Dr. Kathi Malone receives ‘Promise of One’ volunteer award from Komen Puget Sound

Dr. Kathi Malone, head of the Epidemiology Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch, has received the annual “Promise of One” volunteer award from Susan G. Komen Puget Sound.

Malone, who serves on Komen Puget Sound’s board and chairs its grants committee, received the honor May 19 at its annual Community Impact Celebration in Seattle. She also presented more than $700,000 in grants to seven local nonprofit, tribal and government agencies that provide vital breast health services to underserved women.

The Promise of One award is designed to “recognize the power one person has to advance our promise to save lives and end breast cancer.”

“Kathi has been a model of active engagement and commitment in all aspects of Komen Puget Sound,” said David Richart, Komen Puget Sound executive director, in presenting the award. 

Her hundreds of hours of service to the organization have included providing a “thorough, accurate and up-to-date profile of the breast cancer burden and disparities in our service region,” he said, and providing “thoughtful guidance and recommendations to improve our grants application and review process.”

Malone’s research focuses on understanding the causes of breast cancer and factors that influence outcome after treatment.

Dr. Eric Chow
Dr. Eric Chow led a study that found a drug called dexrazoxane may help prevent premature heart disease caused by chemotherapy in childhood. Fred Hutch file

Study of cardioprotective drug addresses concerns about use in children

People who survived a childhood cancer aren’t out of the woods even though their cancer is gone. Due to toxicity from widely used cancer drugs, many of them will also face premature heart disease as they grow up. An analysis published on Tuesday in The Journal of Clinical Oncology by a group of investigators in the nationwide Children’s Oncology Group helps provide some clarity as pediatric oncologists consider how to prevent this collateral damage in their young patients.

The researchers, led by Fred Hutch's Dr. Eric Chow, found that a drug called dexrazoxane, which is sometimes used to protect the hearts of people in cancer treatment, did not appear to compromise the long-term survival of children who received it as part of their treatment for blood cancers.

Dexrazoxane has been shown to help protect the hearts of adults who receive heart-damaging cancer drugs, and previous research showed that it might be beneficial in children, too.

However, Chow said, “there’s been some concerns raised previously that the drug could either interfere with regular chemotherapy — how effective it is — and thus affect recurrence rate, and some concern that there could be a higher risk of secondary leukemias in children.”

This study was designed to address some of those concerns. An upcoming paper by the group will examine the long-term cardioprotective effects of dexrazoxane in childhood cancer survivors.

“There’s been a longstanding interest in the pediatric oncology community about whether this drug is effective or not, and it appears to be effective in adults, but that’s been harder to show in children,” Chow said, adding that it can take decades for premature heart disease to manifest after damage incurred during childhood cancer treatment.

At Seattle Children’s, where Chow is medical director of the Cancer Survivor Program and LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence, dexrazoxane is typically only used in children with sarcoma, who receive very high doses of heart-damaging chemotherapy during their treatment, Chow said. The drug’s use is limited to this group precisely because of concerns about its effectiveness and effects on the primary cancer treatment.

Dr. Linda Buck
Dr. Linda Buck received an honorary doctorate of science degree from Harvard this week. Photo by Kevin Wolf / AP images for HHMI

Dr. Linda Buck receives honorary doctorate from Harvard University

Fred Hutch’s Nobel laureate Dr. Linda Buck has received an honorary doctorate of science from Harvard University. She was among 10 people who received honorary degrees today during the university's 364th commencement ceremony.

Buck was a faculty member in the Neurobiology Department at Harvard Medical School for 11 years before joining the Hutch Basic Sciences Division faculty in 2002.

Buck was awarded a Nobel Prize in physiology or 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.

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