Nutritional epidemiologist Dr. Marian Neuhouser, a member of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, on June 1 took office as president of the American Society for Nutrition.
Her one-year term as president succeeds her yearlong term as vice president of the organization.
Neuhouser’s research focus for the past 20 years has been the role of nutrition and energy balance (calories consumed versus calories burned) in the prevention and survivorship of breast and prostate cancers and other diet-related chronic diseases.
She is principal investigator or co-principal investigator of multiple National Institutes of Health-funded grants and contracts ranging from controlled feeding trials to large, population-based studies, including those focused on special populations such as minorities, the elderly and those experiencing health disparities.
Her research also focuses on ways to improve methods of diet and physical-activity assessment and the extent to which biological markers of food intake can improve upon measures of self-report, such as keeping a food journal or filling out a food questionnaire.
The ASN, established in 1928, is a nonprofit organization with more than 5,000 members in more than 75 countries representing academia, clinical practice, government and industry. ASN advances excellence in nutrition research and practice through its publications, including The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, The Journal of Nutrition and Advances in Nutrition, as well as through education, public affairs and membership programs, reaching more than 36 million individuals annually.
“Our diverse membership engages in rigorous nutrition research across the scientific spectrum, from cells to population sciences,” Neuhouser said of the ASN. “This scientific diversity is our strength as we seek to address critical questions about nutrition and human health.”
In her new role, Neuhouser will support the large portfolio of ASN activities, which include:
Neuhouser has authored more than 275 peer-reviewed publications and a dozen book chapters related to dietary assessment methods, energy balance, diet and health, and cancer prevention.
In addition to being a member of ASN, she is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Preventive Oncology.
She is also a core member of the Nutritional Sciences Program and an affiliate professor of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.
Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service
In the microscopic realm of defense against pathogenic invaders, one strategy is key to success: one’s immune system must learn to distinguish itself from the foreign. It sounds simple — humans are different from viruses and other pathogens in so many ways — but the strategy is made more complex by the rapid evolution of viruses to evade our defenses, some of which they accomplish by mimicking parts of our own cells.
The system is especially difficult for researchers to study because there are many differences between the human immune system and those of even closely related animals that biologists can study in the lab. Mice, which are the most commonly used mammalian laboratory model animal, are susceptible to many viruses that we are immune to, and vice versa.
A new study — published this week in the journal eLife and led by Fred Hutch evolutionary biologist Dr. Harmit Malik and former postdoctoral fellow Dr. Matthew Daugherty (now running his own newly established lab at the University of California, San Diego) — has pinpointed a previously unclear difference in the immune genes of the mouse and human. Known as the IFIT family, these genes are part of the innate immune response, animals’ first line of defense against viruses.
One of these genes, IFIT1, is rapidly and strongly activated early on during viral infection. Previous research found that the mouse IFIT1 protein specifically recognizes viral RNA molecules because they lack a certain type of modification that the host puts on all of its own RNAs.
“This is a great way for you to find the stranger in the crowd,” Malik said.
Because of this protein, mice can resist infection by alphaviruses, a class of viruses that includes chikungunya, which is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. But for reasons that were previously unknown, the human IFIT1 protein doesn’t recognize this difference between viral and host molecules in the same way the mouse protein does.
Malik, Daugherty and their Fred Hutch colleagues (including former Malik Lab research technician Aaron Schaller and virologist Dr. Adam Geballe) found that that’s because the gene researchers had long thought was the human version of IFIT1 is actually a completely different type of gene, more a distant cousin to the mouse gene than its sister. The human IFIT1 recognizes and helps prevent infection by different types of viruses, including vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV, although the researchers still don’t understand which chemical cue on VSV our IFIT1 protein recognizes.
Their findings add more weight to the developing argument that despite their wide utility, mice may not be a perfect system to study human immunity, Malik said.
“That assumption is pervasive, since mouse is the premiere model for studying human immunology. And yet what this work and other papers we’ve published show is that’s not always true,” he said.
Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service
Two researchers from the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, or HICOR, recently took home awards for new study abstracts.
Dr. Joshua Roth, a comparative-effectiveness researcher in HICOR, based in Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division, won a Gold Merit Abstract Award in the Advocacy, Economics & Health Policy category from the American College of Radiology for his abstract, “The Potential Clinical, Resource Use, and Fiscal Impacts of Lung-RADS to Inform Low-Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening in the United States.” His study also brought home an award for Best Podium Presentation by a New Investigator from the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, or ISPOR.
In his study, Roth developed a simulation model to tease out the differences between two different lung cancer screening protocols. One protocol, developed on evidence from the National Lung Screening Trial, recognizes nodules 4 mm or larger as positive for lung cancer and has a high false-positive rate (26.6 percent). The other protocol, developed by the American College of Radiology and known as the Lung Imaging Reporting and Data System (Lung-RADS™), uses a higher threshold to determine lung cancer risk (nodules must be 6 mm or higher to be positive), a tiered hierarchy of risk assessment and specific diagnostic procedures tailored to each level of risk. It also has a lower false-positive rate.
In his yet-to-be-published study, Roth found that using Lung-RADS to standardize low-dose CT lung cancer screening reporting and management — as opposed to the National Lung Screening Trial’s less nuanced approach — would potentially mean 500,000 to 1 million fewer false-positive results; 5,000 to 11,000 fewer invasive diagnostic follow-up procedures and a $128 million to $256 million reduction in spending over three years.
“One of the most important parts of the study is that it points out that the nodule management protocol in lung cancer screening really matters,” Roth said. “Both from a patient-centered perspective — we don’t want patients to worry about lung cancer if they don’t have it — and also from an economic perspective.”
Dr. Aasthaa Bansal was also honored for her abstract regarding a yet-to-be-published study titled, “Value of Information Methods for Optimal Timing of Biomarker Collection.”
Like Roth, Bansal uses statistical methods for comparative effectiveness and outcomes research. Her study looked at value-of-information approaches to determining the optimal time intervals for collecting biomarker levels that may be used to guide medical decision-making.
Repeated collection of biomarker data can be costly and inconvenient. Alternatively, predicted time trajectories of biomarkers based on patients’ earlier biomarker values can be used to inform dynamic decision-making. However, predicted biomarker levels are uncertain, giving rise to decision uncertainty. Value-of-information methods can be used to determine at what time point direct collection of biomarker data would be most valuable.
Bansal received Best Poster Presentation by a New Investigator award at the recent ISPOR meeting held in Washington, D.C.
According to the ISPOR website, the awards were established in 1998 to recognize the scientific merit of podium and poster presentations at their annual meetings. Evaluations of scientific merit are based upon numerous criteria including research design and methods, objectives, clear and appropriate data sourcing and sampling, lack of bias and clarity of presentation.
HICOR Director Dr. Scott Ramsey said he was “delighted” that the academic contributions of HICOR were honored at the recent meetings.
“The recognition is much-deserved and we expect more great work from these emerging investigators,” he said.
Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service
Six researchers at Fred Hutch and two at the University of Washington have won grants for pilot projects designed to test highly innovative approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis or treatment.
Dozens of proposals are evaluated each year in the annual competition, which awards pilot grants of up to $80,000 plus facilities and administrative costs to members of the Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium. The goal is to pay for research that could generate enough preliminary data in a year to support applications for funding from the National Institutes of Health when the projects are completed.
Winners of the 2016 pilot awards and their project titles are:
The pilot project awards are administered through the Fred Hutch/UW Cancer Consortium’s Cancer Center Support Grant, or CCSG, part of the federal program that supports National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers. Because NIH funding has been tight in recent years, the pilot grants administered through the CCSG are considered an important mechanism for helping investigators gather the critical data needed to substantiate a future NIH grant.
Fred Hutch/UW Cancer Consortium Administrator Dr. Marion Dorer called the pilot grants “a mainstay” of early-stage research. They are specifically designed to encourage interdisciplinary programs and work that represents a new direction in the applicants’ research that is “highly innovative, yet technically feasible,” she said. “You don’t have to have any preliminary data. We specifically ask for early stage projects.”
The program is open to about 530 members of the consortium, which includes Fred Hutch, UW and Seattle Children’s Hospital. The projects will begin June 15.
Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service