Good News at Fred Hutch: Dr. Anne McTiernan named to HHS panel; Dr. Harlan Robins is co-PI on two projects

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Dr. Anne McTiernan
Dr. Anne McTiernan Fred Hutch file photo

Dr. Anne McTiernan named to federal health panel 

Dr. Anne McTiernan, a breast cancer epidemiologist and cancer prevention expert at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been appointed to the 2018 Physical Guidelines Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

She is among 17 nationally recognized experts in physical activity and health to serve on the committee, announced Wednesday by Dr. Karen DeSalvo, HHS assistant secretary for health.

Over the next two years, the committee will examine current scientific evidence on the link between physical activity and health outcomes, and ultimately will submit evidence-based recommendations in a scientific advisory report to the secretary of HHS. These recommendations will help inform the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which is expected to be released in 2018.

“Being physically active is associated with reduced risk for developing several types of cancer, and with improved prognosis in many cancer survivors,” said McTiernan, a member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch, where cancer prevention is a major focus of research.

“Most Americans do not engage in enough physical activity for optimal health, and many spend the majority of their time in sedentary pursuits. Therefore, there is critical need for these guidelines in order to encourage people and communities to adopt physically active lifestyles,” McTiernan said. The guidelines will be relevant to millions of people with cancer and at risk of developing cancer.”

The panel includes physicians and researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, University of Illinois, Purdue University, the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University and other institutions.

In updating the current Physical Activity Guidelines, McTiernan and other committee members will review scientific data relating physical activity to health outcomes for the general population and for select groups such as youth, older adults and people with disabilities.

“We know that meeting the recommendations in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans can produce physical and mental health benefits,” said DeSalvo. “Regular physical activity – 150 minutes a week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children – can reduce the risk of depression, cognitive decline, and many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.”

McTiernan has led groundbreaking randomized clinical trials that have shown regular moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking for 30 minutes a day) significantly reduces risk factors for breast cancer in women and colon cancer in men. She was principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute-funded Seattle Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer program that investigated mechanisms linking obesity and sedentary lifestyles with cancer.

—  Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Harlan Robins
Dr. Harlan Robins Fred Hitch file photo

Dr. Harlan Robins mentoring two projects funded by Stand Up To Cancer 

Dr. Harlan Robins, head of the Computational Biology Program at Fred Hutch, will serve as co-principal investigator for two new projects that seek improved treatments for leukemia, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer. The studies are part of the Stand Up To Cancer – V Foundation Convergence Scholar Awards.

Stand Up To Cancer, the National Science Foundation and the V Foundation added a new grant type, which brings together quantitative and theoretical scientists with clinical researchers,” said Robins, an associate member of the Public Health Sciences and Human Biology divisions at Fred Hutch.

“The participants in the brainstorming session [for the projects] were essentially locked together – due to a snow storm in New Jersey – for three days. Some great ideas for projects came out of the event and were selected for funding,” Robins said.

The first convergence team project, titled “The Genetic, Epigenetic, and Immunological Underpinnings of Cancer Evolution Through Treatment,” is funded by an annual grant of $33,333 for three years. This involves patients treated for acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, and those treated for non-small cell lung cancer with activating EGFR mutations. (The EGFR, or epidermal growth factor receptor, is a cell surface protein; EGFR mutations are associated with lung cancers.)

Many people with AML and EGFR-mutant lung cancer initially respond well to recently developed anti-cancer therapies but later suffer relapses. This team will investigate mechanisms driving those relapses. Their work will combine genomic, transcriptional and phenotypic assays of tumors at the various stages of therapeutic response and resistance with mathematical modeling. The goal is to better understand the evolution of drug resistance and to develop therapeutic strategies to prevent drug resistance.

The second convergence team project, titled “Liberating T-Cell Mediated Immunity to Pancreatic Cancer,” is funded with an annual grant of $86,743 for two years. This proposal represents a novel team science approach to stimulating T cell immunity in pancreatic cancer patients.

It will merge the talents of clinical oncologists, basic and translational researchers, computational biologists and theoretical scientists.

Other groups that are funding these projects, Robins said, include Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Lustgarten Foundation. 

—  Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

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