More than a dozen Fred Hutch scientists and staff participated in the ninth annual Life Sciences Research Weekend Nov. 6-8 at Pacific Science Center in Seattle.
The event, which drew more than 5,500 visitors, included live demonstrations, interactive exhibits, and talks for school children, families, and “citizen scientists” interested in learning more about the life sciences and the key role research plays in daily life.
Fred Hutch participants, including members of the Boeckh and Peichel labs, were among more than 380 volunteers from over 35 companies and organizations that staffed 29 activity tables throughout the three-day event.
Activities provided by the Boeckh Lab focused around making a model flu virus out of play dough and pipe cleaners; the Peichel Lab’s table included a tank of stickleback fish and information about the role these creatures play in understanding growth, behavior, cell division, and chromosome evolution, among other biological mechanisms.
“We hope that every visitor went home with a new appreciation of the fun of science and recognition of Fred Hutch and the other life sciences companies and institutions that contribute valuable research and innovations to our health and economy,” said Dr. Reitha S. Weeks, Life Sciences Research Weekend program lead.
Other participating organizations included the Center for Infectious Disease Research, the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the University of Washington, and ZymoGenetics.
A National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award sponsored the event.
Five Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center investigators have received pilot funding of up to $80,000 each in direct costs from the Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium to pursue “highly innovative concepts that have the potential to improve the lives of cancer patients.”
Those who have received funding from the Cancer Center Support Grant are, in alphabetical order:
Dr. William Grady, a physician and cancer geneticist in the Clinical Research Division, will lead a project to grow human and mouse colorectal epithelial cells in the lab to establish model systems for studying the role of specific genetic alterations on the progression of precancerous polyps to cancer. Such culture systems will allow the study of genetic alterations that determine whether polyps remain benign or progress to cancer. This work will be done in collaboration with co-investigators Dr. Jon Grim of the Clinical Research Division and Dr. Patrick Paddison of the Human Biology and Public Health Sciences Divisions, as well as researchers at Baylor Medical College.
Dr. Elizabeth Trice Loggers, a palliative care specialist and medical oncologist in the Clinical Research Division, will lead, with Dr. Frances Marcus Lewis, UW Medical Center professor of nursing leadership, a study to test the feasibility and effectiveness of an evidence-based educational counseling program for terminally ill cancer patients who have dependent children living at home. According to Loggers, such parents currently are “severely underserved” in how to manage their own impending death and the emotional and developmental toll their cancer has on their children. The study will involve 33 patients with stage 4 cancer, along with their significant other (if applicable) and their children (ages 5 to 17), who will receive five cancer-education counseling sessions. If the intervention is found to improve parent-child communication in the patient’s final days, as well as the bereavement process for the surviving partner and child, Loggers and colleagues hope to test it in a multi-site, randomized controlled trial.
Dr. Joshua Roth, a comparative-effectiveness researcher in the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, HICOR, based in the Public Health Sciences Division, will head up a study that aims to measure the overuse of radiation therapy procedures among Medicare and private-payer (Regence/Premera) cancer patients. To this end, Roth and colleagues from HICOR and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance will measure associations between patient, health-system and policy-level factors and adherence to the American Association for Radiation Oncology “Choosing Wisely” recommendations. The CW initiative is a national effort to improve quality of health services by highlighting overuse of selected medical intervention. While the majority of cancer health-disparities research has focused on the underuse of guideline-recommended therapies, some studies suggest that traditionally underserved patients may also be more likely to receive non-guideline-based treatment, even if it leads to treatment overuse. This study is important, Roth says, because the inappropriate use – and overuse – of cancer treatment subjects patients to unnecessary clinical risks, undue psychological harm and unnecessary financial burden while adding to the cost of cancer care.
Dr. Matthias Stephan, an immunobioengineer in the Clinical Research Division, and Dr. Barry Stoddard, a structural biologist in the Basic Sciences Division, will co-lead a project to try to overcome certain obstacles in immunotherapy. While T-cell-based immunotherapy is an emerging and promising treatment for a variety of cancers, it faces a complication: tumors can produce factors that block the treatment’s anticancer effects. To get around this obstacle, Stephan, Stoddard and colleagues will perform gene editing of tumor-specific T cells to prevent the tumor’s influence in shutting down the T-cells’ anticancer activities. By combining the expertise of their two laboratories, the researchers plan to leverage data from this pilot project to apply for a collaborative National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant.
Two additional pilot grants were awarded to the following University of Washington investigators: Dr. Lillian Maggio-Price of the UW Department of Comparative Medicine for a project titled "Germ-free mutant mice as bio-indicators of colon cancer risk in UC patients," and Dr. Richard Gardner of the UW Department of Pharmacology for a project called "Defining the ubiquitin-mediated regulation of ribosome biogenesis to develop novel anti-cancer therapeutics."
In addition to the pilot grants, four Fred Hutch investigators, all based in the Clinical Research Division, have received New Investigator Support Awards of up to $80,000 each from the Cancer Center Support Grant:
Two UW faculty members also received New Investigator Support Awards: Dr. Farhood Farjah of the UW Department of Medicine, Surgery; and Dr. Richard Gardner of the UW Department of Pharmacology.
These awards provide developmental support to new or junior faculty who are establishing their research within the Fred Hutch/UW Cancer Consortium. The funds provide a flexible source of funding designed to allow new investigators to work toward obtaining future, independent research funding.
Dr. Joshua Hill, a research associate in Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, earlier this month received the Caroline B. Hall Young Investigator Award at the International HHV-6 & 7 Conference in Boston for his work on human herpesvirus 6, or HHV-6.
Almost everyone worldwide is infected with HHV-6 by age 3. As with all herpesviruses, infection is life-long, but it usually remains dormant. Hill is developing novel molecular diagnostic tests to determine whether HHV-6 reactivation is an important cause of pneumonia in patients undergoing stem cell transplants, perhaps offering an explanation for some of the approximately 10 percent of post-transplant pneumonias that are of unknown origin. This work may pave the way for better preventive or treatment strategies.
He is also exploring an aspect of HHV-6 that sets it apart from other herpesviruses — its ability to integrate itself into the human genome — and what role inherited chromosomally integrated HHV-6 may play in causing encephalitis, graft-versus-host disease or other complications after transplant. Hill and colleagues have developed a screening algorithm to efficiently identify a large cohort of patients affected by integrated HHV-6 using transplant patient and donor samples that have been archived by the Fred Hutch Research Cell Bank over the past 30 years. This will be the largest group of transplant patients with integrated HHV-6 studied to date and may reveal insights into the clinical significance of this condition.
Hill first came to Fred Hutch in 2011 to join Dr. Michael Boeckh’s research team as an infectious disease fellow. In his nomination letter, Boeckh, head of Fred Hutch’s Infectious Disease Sciences Program, described Hill as “a rising star in the field of transplant infectious disease and HHV-6 research.”
Dr. Benjamin O. Anderson, a breast cancer surgeon and expert in breast global health in the Public Health Sciences Division, is the co-author of a newly released textbook, Disease Control Priorities 3rd Edition, or DCP3, volume on cancer. The book gathers essential information on effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, feasibility, and affordability of a range of cancer interventions to provide evidence-based guidance to decision makers worldwide.
“The launch of the DCP3 cancer volume marks an exciting transition in international health care and global oncology,” Anderson said. “In 2011, the United Nations instructed the World Health Organization to address noncommunicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries, which for the first time placed cancer on the global health map. The DCP3 cancer volume brings together much-needed information and economic analysis for policy makers and implementers to advance this important health challenge.”
The volume was developed by the Disease Control Priorities Network at the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The lead editor is Hellen Gelband, associate director at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy.
For more information, visit www.dcp-3.org/cancer.