Hyundai Hope on Wheels presents $250K grant for pediatric cancer research; Drs. Amanda Paulovich, Jeff Whiteaker facilitate 'first step' in expanding NCI’s Protein Assay Portal

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Jessica Beckstrand and daughter, Layla.
Jessica Beckstrand helps her daughter, Layla, 2, place her handprint on a car during the Hyundai Hope on Wheels ceremony. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Hyundai Hope on Wheels presents $250K grant for pediatric cancer research at Fred Hutch

Hyundai Hope on Wheels presented Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist Dr. Roland Walter with a $250,000 grant award Thursday to fund his research on drugs that help immune cells fight cancers. The ceremony on the Hutch campus welcomed Hyundai dealers from across the Seattle area and the families of children with cancer.

“You guys are doing amazing work for the community and for the country,” Nathan Miller, regional sales manager of Hyundai Motor America, told Walter and his Fred Hutch colleagues. Hyundai Motor America and its dealers are the primary source of funding for Hyundai Hope on Wheels, a nonprofit working to end childhood cancer.

“This is not about selling cars, or promoting our business,” said Jim Walen, owner of Hyundai of Kirkland, who was joined by his wife and business partner, Kirkland, Washington mayor Amy Walen. “This is about making the world a better place.”

Walter thanked the foundation and the dealers for their support. He emphasized the significance of private philanthropy in research, especially pediatric cancer research, during a time of stagnant federal funding.

Dr. Roland Walter
Dr. Roland Walter Fred Hutch file photo

Such support “is really critically important to support research so we can keep doing what we’re doing,” Walter said.

With his two-year Scholar Grant from the foundation, Walter will study a class of drugs called bispecific antibodies, which act as liaisons between the immune system’s T cells and tumor cells.

These antibodies have shown promise for treating certain patients with cancer by triggering T cells to release cancer-killing molecules; however, for unknown reasons, they only work for some people and are short-lived in the body, requiring continuous infusions.

Walter’s goal is to “try to make these drugs work better and for a broader range of cancers, including cancers common in children,” said the scientist, an associate member of the Clinical Research Division and a physician specializing in acute myeloid leukemia.

Jessica Beckstrand, the mother of a 2-year-old girl being treated for neuroblastoma, thanked Hyundai Hope on Wheels for supporting the type of research Walter is conducting. 

“We’re going to make it to her next birthday, and she’s going to make it to her 20th birthday because of people like you,” Beckstrand said, her voice breaking with emotion as she held her daughter, Layla. The little girl smiled and stroked her mother’s neck while cuddling a fuzzy blanket in Beckstand’s arms.

Hyundai's Nathan Miller
Hyundai's Nathan Miller Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Layla and the other children present marked the occasion by leaving their handprints on the foundation’s “hero vehicle,” a white 2016 Hyundai Tucson parked in front of the Hutch’s Thomas Building.

Layla chose blue paint for her handprint, which her mother helped her place under the handle on the vehicle’s right passenger-side door. Her print was joined by those of the other children, in red, blue and green.

The car will travel the country to help raise awareness of childhood cancer.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels has given more than $115 million in grants to childhood cancer research since its inception in 1998. Walter is one of 24 recipients across the country this year. 

The foundation has given more than $2 million to support research at Fred Hutch, where it is the institution’s largest corporate supporter of pediatric cancer research, said Fred Hutch Vice President of Development Kelly O’Brien.

— Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service


Dr. Amanda Paulovich
Dr. Amanda Paulovich Fred Hutch file photo

Drs. Amanda Paulovich, Jeff Whiteaker facilitate significant ‘first step’ in expanding NCI’s Protein Assay Portal

Dr. Amanda Paulovich and colleague Dr. Jeff Whiteaker have helped facilitate an "important" partnership between the National Cancer Institute's Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium, or CPTAC, and the University of Victoria Genome British Columbia Proteomics Centre.

Paulovich, a Fred Hutch geneticist and oncologist, and Whiteaker, a staff scientist in the Clinical Research Division, spearheaded the development of the NCI’s CPTAC Assay Portal, considered a crucial piece of the scientific framework needed to modernize the study of proteins. 

“Unfortunately, protein measurements are technologically stuck in the 1980s, hindering our ability to unlock the power of DNA — the genome — and to identify proteins that will help enable new scientific discoveries and medical insights, delivering better diagnostic tests and, above all, better care for patients,” said Paulovich, who studies the role of proteins in cancer.

To address this gap, Paulovich and other researchers have worked through the CPTAC program to develop the Assay Portal, using a NextGen platform (based on targeted mass spectrometry). The overarching goal of the project is to build and openly share next-generation assays to all human proteins to, ultimately, better understand how diseases work and are detected at the functional level. 

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker
Dr. Jeff Whiteaker Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

“The portal currently contains assays for approximately 5 percent of the basic human proteome. Covering the entire proteome will require contributions from laboratories outside of the CPTAC network,” Whiteaker said.

The new partnership involves Dr. Christoph Borchers, director of the Victoria, B.C., proteomics center, who has volunteered to upload to the NCI portal about 2,000 targeted mass- spectrometry-based assays. These are tests that measure proteins in blood and tissue that help inform targeted cancer therapy and predict patient treatment response.

Borchers and his colleagues will be the first non-CPTAC researchers to contribute targeted mass spec assays to the portal. A key aspect of the Assay Portal is to make it “an open-source, web-based community resource” for proteomics researchers around the world to share their quantitative assays while also accessing “reliable methods for measuring proteins,” Paulovich said. She serves as co-chair of the NCI’s CPTAC Assay Development Working Group, along with Whiteaker and Dr. Andy Hoofnagle at the University of Washington.

“The exciting, recent contribution of assays from the Borchers group is an important first step in opening up the resource for contributions from the entire community, bringing us one step closer to the goal of building next-generation assays to all human proteins,” Paulovich said.

Here’s why the portal is central to advancing medicine: In all diseases, proteins carry out the biological functions of our cells and form the basis of the majority of diagnostic tests and treatments. Yet more than 95 percent of human proteins can’t be studied because science lacks precise laboratory methods, or assays, for detecting them and measuring their concentrations, Paulovich said. In June, she was invited by Vice President Joe Biden to attend the National Moonshot Summit in Washington, D.C., where a new proteomics initiative was announced.

“Having the ability to accurately and easily identify and measure proteins in blood, tissues and cells will help scientists and doctors understand how disease works, and has the potential to transform the future of health care with new and better tests, drugs and treatment over the next 10 years,” Paulovich said. 

— Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

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