Drs. Michael Emerman and Nina Salama, both members of the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, have been elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology. They are among 78 microbiologists elected to the Academy this year through a highly selective, peer-review process based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced the field of microbiology.
Salama’s investigations into the stomach-residing microbe Helicobacter pylori have significantly advanced knowledge of bacterial genomics and pathogenesis as well as cell biology. In his career, Emerman has contributed substantial insights to the understanding of the interplay between viruses and their hosts as well as factors that regulate virus replication.
Emerman, who is also a member of the Basic Sciences Division, discovered that HIV, which inserts its DNA into the genomes of infected cells, can infect non-dividing cells — a key advance that paved the way for the development of gene therapy vectors based on related viruses. These gene therapy tools are used in applications ranging from the development of preclinical models of disease to immunotherapy.
With Hutch colleague Dr. Harmit Malik, Emerman also originated the field of paleovirology, examining how ancient viral infections influenced the evolution of immune genes that developed to counter such infections. As part of these efforts, Emerman has predicted the antiviral activity of specific innate immune proteins and dated the emergence of specific pathogens, including HIV-1.
Salama, also a member of the Public Health Sciences Division and an affiliate member of the Basic Sciences Division, has delved deeply into the genomics of H. pylori, known to cause ulcers and stomach cancer in some infected people. Her discovery of hundreds of genes unique to specific strains led to the concept of a “pan genome,” or the collection of all the genes, both unique and shared, from organisms that share a common ancestor. She has also uncovered many of the genes and molecular pathways that control the corkscrew shape of H. pylori, which influence’s the bacterium’s ability to infect its host.
She is currently a section editor at PLOS Pathogens and part of the editorial board for the journal Helicobacter and has been was awarded a four-year Pew Fellowship. Emerman is currently the fourth editor-in-chief of the journal Virology and an associate editor at PLOS Pathogens. Emerman’s honors include a National Institutes of Health Merit Award and the Ohio State University Retrovirus Distinguished Career Award.
Both Salama and Emerman serve on scientific advisory boards, have participated in NIH study sections and provide outstanding mentorship to students and postdocs.
The American Academy of Microbiology is the honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology, the world's oldest and largest life science organization. The mission of the Academy is to recognize scientists for outstanding contributions to microbiology and provide microbiological expertise in the service of science and the public.
— Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service
Dr. William "Bill" Grady, a clinical researcher and cancer geneticist at Fred Hutch, has been awarded a $180,000 grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research and the Price Family Foundation for a two-year project to develop a better way to identify people at highest risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma, the most common cancer of the esophagus.
Incidence of esophageal cancer is rapidly increasing in the United States. Last year, roughly 20,000 Americans died of it, which is more than a fivefold increase compared to the early 1970s.
The risk of adenocarcinoma increases with age, obesity and tobacco use. However, it is tenfold higher for individuals with Barrett’s esophagus, a change in the esophageal lining that occurs in people who have chronic heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux. Cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus can be prevented or treated successfully if caught early by endoscopy, a medical exam that allows doctors to look at the lining of the esophagus.
Endoscopies, unfortunately, are unpleasant and intrusive, and because just a fraction of those with Barrett’s esophagus ever develop cancer, most people with the condition likely do not need them. The problem is that doctors have no way to tell which patients with Barrett’s esophagus are at the highest risk for cancer. Grady’s team aims to find a simple way to spot those patients who should get frequent endoscopies, while sparing others unnecessary discomfort.
He and research partner Dr. Georg Luebeck, a computational biologist and member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch, plan to achieve this with a test that can accurately determine the biological age of esophageal tissue, which results from biochemical wear and tear ― and differs from chronological age, as told by the calendar. Their focus is on detecting a process of chemical build-up on DNA, called DNA methylation, which Grady likens to rust. More “rust” means faster biological aging and presumably a higher risk of cancer.
With the funding from this new grant, Grady and Luebeck will compare the “rust” profiles in tissue samples of Barrett’s esophagus patients who developed esophageal cancer with those who did not. Their goal is to use any differences between the profiles as the basis of a screening test that can tell Barrett’s esophagus patients in the future whether they should start getting endoscopies and how often they should get them.
“The biological age of the esophagus will allow us to determine the true cancer risk for someone with Barrett’s esophagus,” said Grady, who is a member of Fred Hutch’s Clinical Research Division and a practicing physician at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “We think a person with an older esophagus will have a higher cancer risk than a person with a young esophagus.”
The DeGregorio Family Foundation raises funds to financially support critical research grants to facilitate early detection and effective treatment therapies for the deadly diseases of stomach and esophageal cancer.
Lynn DeGregorio, founder and president of the foundation, said of the award, “This year was our most competitive application process yet. The DeGregorio Family Foundation, along with a major contribution by the Price Family Foundation, are happy to support Dr. Grady’s research. We believe the science proposed is novel and innovative and will feasibly lead to a better understanding of esophageal cancer.”
— Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service
Dr. Andrew Hsieh, a Fred Hutch molecular and cell biologist and genitourinary oncologist who has made significant discoveries concerning the role of protein synthesis in cancer initiation and progression, has won a 2016 ASCI Council Young Physician-Scientist Award.
The honor — given by the American Society for Clinical Investigation — recognizes physician-scientists who have notched vital achievements in the lab, are early in their first faculty appointment and are supported by National Institutes of Health career development awards or similar backing.
“I’m really humbled,” said Hsieh, 39, who joined the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutch in 2014.
“This award is a reminder that I have the support of the scientific community behind me,” Hsieh said, “that my lab is doing relevant work that people are very interested in, and that we should continue pressing on.”
Hsieh has published multiple works including two recent papers on which he was a co-corresponding author. One focused on predicting prostate cancer aggressiveness and the clinical importance of translationally regulated protein products. A second paper, released in November, identified a post-transcriptional mechanism that may enable cancer cells to become resistant to some treatments, specifically an emerging class of cancer drugs known as PI3K and mTOR inhibitors.
“To have this step here, at the assistant member level, is a great boost – not just for the research program, but validation of the work that we do,” Hsieh said. “It really amps up the entire group and challenges us to be thoughtfully tenacious with the important research that we’re doing in the laboratory.”
Hsieh will receive an honorarium in Chicago next month at a joint meeting of the ASCI, the Association of American Physicians, and the American Physician Scientists Association. During the April 15-17 conference, he will present his work at a special reception. He is one of 40 nominees nationwide selected this year by the ASCI meeting committee on the basis of the physician-scientists’ accomplishments to date.
ASCI member Dr. Ollie Press — acting director of the Clinical Research Division and acting senior vice president of Fred Hutch — nominated Hsieh for the award. In his nomination letter, Press described Hsieh as “a stellar physician-scientist with a brilliant track record” who has “made seminal discoveries.”
Other ACSI members at the Hutch include Drs. Larry Corey, William Grady, David Hockenbery, Hans-Peter Kiem, Stephanie Lee, Paul Nghiem, Amanda Paulovich and Scott Ramsey.
The ASCI comprises more than 3,000 physician-scientists spanning all specialties elected for their scholarly achievement in biomedical research. The organization, established in 1908, is dedicated to advancing research that extends our understanding and improves the treatment of human diseases.
— Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service
International Women’s Day, March 8, marked the launch of a new interactive data visualization tool for analyzing the causes of the global breast cancer burden around the world. The tool, known as the Global Breast Health Analytics Map, or GloBAM, is a project of Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5, or BCI2.5, a new campaign to make breast health a global priority and reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes for 2.5 million women by 2025.
Fred Hutch serves as the secretariat of BCI2.5, overseeing its administrative functions. The Breast Global Health Initiative at Fred Hutch is also a founding member of BCI2.5.
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women worldwide. Estimates suggest 5.8 million women will die from breast cancer by 2025, with a disproportionate number of these deaths occurring in low-resource settings around the world. Identifying women around the world who can most benefit from resource-appropriate and evidence based interventions, and to track long-term outcomes, is a vital part of BCI2.5’s strategy.
GloBAM maps a wealth of data from organizations such as the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the International Association for Cancer Research, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. GloBAM leverages this data to identify the most appropriate indicators for measuring progress against breast cancer. Creating a dynamic visualization of country-specific patterns in early detection and outcomes has strong potential for decision support, providing tools for education, increasing awareness, and informed decision making.
In addition to Fred Hutch, other founding organizations of BCI2.5 include the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen®, Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), Harvard Global Equity Initiative, National Cancer Institute Center for Global Health, Norwegian Cancer Society, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and Women's Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network (WE CAN).
GloBAM is funded through an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer Inc.
— Based on a BCI2.5 news release
Bill Briggs is a former Fred Hutch News Service staff writer. Follow him at @writerdude. Previously, he was a contributing writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, covering breaking news, health and the military. Prior, he was a staff writer for The Denver Post, part of the newspaper's team that earned the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine High School massacre. He has authored two books, including "The Third Miracle: an Ordinary Man, a medical Mystery, and a Trial of Faith."