Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Dottie and Don Thomas on the Fred Hutch campus
Dottie and Don Thomas on the Fred Hutch campus in 2007. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh

Don and Dottie Thomas inducted into Washington Life Science Hall of Fame

Dr. E. Donnall and Dorothy Thomas, affectionately known as Don and Dottie, the “father and mother of bone marrow transplantation,” are among the first group of inductees into the new Washington Life Science Hall of Fame.

The honor, created by Life Science Washington as a way to celebrate the people behind the most historic health care breakthroughs of our time, honors the Thomases’ pioneering work in the field of bone marrow transplantation, which has forever changed the world of cancer treatment.

The Thomases spent the bulk of their careers at Fred Hutch and formed the core of a team that proved BMT could indeed cure leukemia and other blood cancers. Founding Hutch scientist Don Thomas was honored for his breakthroughs with the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine (he was quick to share credit with Dottie, who assisted in his lab, worked with patients, and researched, wrote and edited Thomas’ grants and papers). But his most powerful legacy is measured in the number of lives saved every year.

Today, more than 1 million transplants have been performed around the world, transforming a collection of deadly cancers into highly treatable diseases. Bone marrow transplantation and its sister therapy, stem cell transplantation, also form one of cancer’s greatest success stories with survival rates as high as 90 percent. Fred Hutch researchers continue to build upon that success with innovative new treatments such as “mini” transplants that use lower doses of chemotherapy and radiation; cord blood transplants that offer options to patients without a matched donor; and immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Always mindful of the needs of researchers and patients, the Thomases helped to ensure future scientific innovations by including Fred Hutch in their estate planning. Others can do the same through the Thomas Legacy Society, where gifts from wills and trusts help fund early-stage ideas that push the boundaries of science, along with prevention research; technology and equipment purchases and transportation and housing assistance for cancer patients and families.

The Thomases will be honored at a June 1 luncheon during the 2016 Life Science Innovation Northwest expo at Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center. Other 2016 Hall of Fame inductees include:

  • Donald W. Baker, retired University of Washington bioengineering professor, whorevolutionized medical ultrasound through Doppler technology
  • Karl William Edmark, defibrillation technology pioneer and founder of Physio-Control
  • Dr. Steven Gillis, immunologist and managing director of ARCH Venture Partners
  • Dr. Leroy Hood, groundbreaking researcher,  president and co-founder of Institute for Systems Biology

Life Science Washington (formerly known as Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, or WBBA) is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(6) trade association serving the life sciences industry in Washington state. Members include organizations engaged in, or supportive of, the research, development and commercialization of life-science technologies. 

Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb
Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb Fred Hutch file

Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb a 2016 Women in Life Sciences honoree

Fred Hutch stem cell scientist and science-education advocate Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb is among five female bioscience leaders who will be honored with the 2016 Life Science Innovation Northwest Women in Life Sciences Award in a ceremony on June 2. The awards will be presented as part of the 2016 Life Science Innovation Northwest expo at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

Torok-Storb’s studies of the stem cells in bone marrow and their requirements for growth have played a role in the development of blood stem cell transplantation, a lifesaving therapy for advanced blood disorders such as leukemia. Torok-Storb is also a passionate mentor to high school students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds, and she has founded two research internship programs for these students at Fred Hutch.

“I know firsthand how one great teacher or one exceptional educational experience can change a students’ future,” said Torok-Storb, a member of the Clinical Research Division.

“I am trying to provide as much of that as I can. I am fortunate to work at the Fred Hutch, where my colleagues who are outstanding scientists want to do the same, and senior leadership provides the resources to make it happen.”

The award recognizes “those exceptionally talented, dynamic and inspirational women” who have made an impact on the Northwest’s life sciences industry, says the website of award sponsor Life Science Washington, an organization dedicated to supporting the state’s life sciences organizations.

Other honorees are:

Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Linda Ko
Dr. Linda Ko Fred Hutch file

Dr. Linda Ko receives $2.5M NIH grant to combat childhood obesity in Lower Yakima Valley

In the Lower Yakima Valley of eastern Washington, childhood obesity is a weighty issue: 34 percent of youth in that region are obese, as compared to the state obesity average of 23 percent. A large proportion of these children are of Hispanic/Latino heritage; three-quarters of Lower Yakima Valley residents fall into this category.

In an effort to combat this alarmingly high youth obesity rate, Dr. Linda Ko and colleagues in the Fred Hutch Center for Community Health Promotion in Sunnyside, Washington, and the eastern Washington community will soon launch a $2.5 million study to test various community-based obesity interventions in a large-scale trial. The study, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, or NIMHD, will involve 900 Hispanic/Latino children aged 8 to 12 at eight elementary schools in the Lower Yakima Valley.

The interventions — from teaching children about healthy eating to teaching families how to cook healthy meals together — will be implemented at the individual, family, school and community levels over the next five years. The main goal of the study will be to reduce children’s BMI, or body-mass index, scores. Secondary outcomes will be to improve their diets and physical activity levels.

This trial is the offshoot of a 2012 NIMHD-funded community capacity-building and pilot intervention study led by Ko and colleagues to conduct a comprehensive community-needs assessment in the Lower Yakima Valley. This process, made possible by the guidance of a 20-member Community Advisory Board, led the groundwork for this larger study.

“The Community Advisory Board members love their community. Their commitment … has been inspirational, and we wouldn’t be able to do this work without them,” said Ko, a behavioral scientist in the Public Health Sciences Division. The board of advisers so crucial to this work consists of community members representing organizations with a vested interested in childhood obesity, from local schools and hospitals to community health centers.

The pilot intervention study included a series of nutrition and physical-activity classes for parents, grandparents, and children; and a community-run “block party” for adults and children where streets were closed around a popular park to make room for activities ranging from yoga to Zumba to low-ropes and obstacle courses.

“In the newly funded grant, we are building on these successes and adding other components that we weren’t able to institute in the pilot intervention study due to limited funding,” Ko said.

The new trial, called “Together We STRIDE” — an acronym that stands for “Strategizing Together Relevant Interventions for Diet and Exercise” — will expand on the pilot study’s multigenerational interventions to promote nutrition and physical activity throughout the community. 

Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Ruth Etzioni
Dr. Ruth Etzioni Fred Hutch file

Dr. Ruth Etzioni receives American Statistical Association award

Dr. Ruth Etzioni, a biostatistician in Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division and a professor of biostatistics and health services at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, has been elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.

Etzioni, who joined Fred Hutch in 1992, was nominated by Dr. Eric “Rocky” Feuer of the National Cancer Institute for her “major developments of statistical methods and models to address important public health questions and for significant contributions to the development of national clinical practice guidelines.”

She will receive the award at the Joint Statistical Meeting awards celebration July 31 in Chicago.

“This is a huge honor,” said Etzioni, who works with Feuer as part of the NCI’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, or CISNET. “Statisticians are a tough crowd. We’re very particular, so I’m very honored to have this kind of stamp of approval from the American Statistical Association.”

Dr. Garnet Anderson, director of the Public Health Sciences Division, and a fellow biostatistician, was “delighted” to hear of Etzioni’s nomination.

“Franky, it seems overdue,” Anderson said via email. “Ruth is an international leader in statistical applications and modeling in the area of early detection and screening. She has a compelling vision and commitment to the field and she is a powerful advocate for making decisions based on high quality data and quantitative thinking. We are lucky to have her at Fred Hutch.”

Dr. Charles Kooperberg, head of the division’s Biostatistics and Biomathematics Program, was equally lavish in his praise.

“This is well deserved,” he said. “Ruth is a leader, not just at the Hutch but in the field. She is a great mentor for junior researchers and a world leader in outcomes research, especially in interpreting screening programs.”

Nominees are rated on contributions in a number of areas, including effectiveness, results, processes and methods of statistical applications, data collection and statistical consultation; administration of statistical activities; teaching and dissemination of statistical knowledge and statistical research. 

According to Feuer, Fellowships are awarded annually to only one-third of 1 percent of the ASA membership. Other Fred Hutch faculty members who’ve been honored as ASA Fellows include Drs. Peter Gilbert (2014), Ziding Feng (2007), Patrick Heagerty (1997), M. Elizabeth “Betz” Halloran (1996), Steven G. Self (1996), Ira Longini (1995), Tom Fleming (1987) and Ross L. Prentice (1982). 

Etzioni’s nomination letter cited her 16 years with CISNET, an NCI-funded consortium that uses simulation modeling to guide public health research and priorities. At the time Etzioni joined the consortium, she was the only prostate cancer modeler. She is now the principal investigator of the CISNET Prostate Coordinating Center, housed at Fred Hutch, and has “worked tirelessly” to interpret sometimes-contradictory data to determine the true benefits and harms of PSA screening.

“What has been most helpful about Dr. Etzioni’s contribution to the area of prostate cancer screening has been how non-ideological her work has been,” Feuer wrote in his nomination letter. “While there are many with strong opinions both for and against PSA screening, her passion has been how to make the most out of the available information and transform it into metrics that policymakers can use and understand.”

In an interview with Fred Hutch News Service, Etzioni said she is driven by the questions scientists ask.

“I’m an applied statistician,” she said. “The data and its particularities drive the solutions and the work, and that’s what motivates me. I’m really trying to do the right thing with the data, to answer scientific questions. It always goes back to the question.”

She also praised the field of statistics, which she said has become more inclusive over the years.

“We may be a tough crowd, but it is a broad tent,” she said. “And that’s very important today when data is becoming so ubiquitous and important. We have tools beyond traditional statistics now, like data science and predictive analytics. As statisticians, we have to have a broad tent to meet these challenges and embrace the opportunities.”

In addition to her work with CISNET, Etzioni serves on early detection guidelines panels of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American Urological Association and the American Cancer Society (she recently helped to create the ACS’s new breast cancer screening guidelines for average risk women). The Etzioni Lab also leads the Biostatistics Core for the Pacific Northwest Prostate Cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence and serves as a central consulting resource for prostate cancer investigators at Fred Hutch, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington.

Ironically, Etzioni is so focused on her work she forgot to renew her ASA membership.

“[They] wanted to nominate me five years ago and my membership had lapsed,” Etzioni said, laughing. “You have to be a member for three consecutive years so I quickly rejoined and then promptly forgot about it.”

Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Innocent Mutyaba
Dr. Innocent Mutyaba Fred Hutch file

Global Oncology fellow Dr. Innocent Mutyaba named one of IARC’s ‘cancer research leaders of the future’

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has named Dr. Innocent Mutyaba of the Uganda Cancer Institute/Hutchinson Center Alliance one of 50 future leaders in cancer research from low- and middle-income countries.

Mutyaba, who lives and works in Kampala, Uganda, studied in Seattle as a Fred Hutch Global Oncology fellow in 2009-2010. The following year he became the program’s first Ugandan fellow to receive independent funding through a two-year startup catalytic grant. Most recently he was the study coordinator for the UCI-Fred Hutch Burkitt Lymphoma Project in Uganda. He is now supported by Global Oncology as a doctoral candidate at Makerere University in Kampala.

His research will build on previous scientific studies of the Alliance focusing on Kaposi sarcoma, which is an HIV-associated malignancy with a high incidence in Uganda. During his doctoral studies, Mutyaba will identify biological markers of disease and explore the factors affecting survival in patients who develop complications from treatment for Kaposi sarcoma.

To mark the agency’s 50th anniversary, IARC selected the 50 future leaders based on their work on cancer-related research, managing research teams and planning research. In June Mutyaba will spend a week in Lyon, France attending a workshop on fostering leadership in cancer research at the IARC annual conference, called “Global Cancer: Occurrence, Causes, and Avenues to Prevention.”

Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

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