Good News: Global Oncology wins NCI grant; 1100 Eastlake building honored; Bish Paul essay in Science; Dr. Joseph Unger leads finasteride study

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Dr. Corey Casper
Dr. Corey Casper Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch Global Oncology and Seattle Children’s win NCI ‘provocative questions’ grant

Dr. Corey Casper of Fred Hutch Global Oncology and Dr. Lisa Frenkel of Seattle Children’s Center for Global Infectious Disease Research have recently been awarded a $5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Provocative Questions Initiative, which rewards “effective and imaginative ways” to improve cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment.

The researchers will use the grant to determine the biologic mechanisms behind the higher risk of cervical cancer among women with both the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which causes cervical cancer, and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“We hope that we will gain insight into the mechanism by which women with HIV are at more than a fivefold increased risk of cervical cancer, which has now become the most common cancer in much of sub-Saharan Africa,” Casper said.

Taking advantage of the well-established relationship between Fred Hutch and the Uganda Cancer Institute, or UCI, in Kampala, the study will enroll Ugandan women with HIV who come for routine cervical cancer screening and are found to have pre-cancerous lesions. They will be closely followed for several weeks to compare those who spontaneously resolve their pre-cancers during this time period with those who progress toward cancer.

“Specifically, we will look at how HIV incorporates itself into the human genome, with the hypothesis that when this happens in parts of our genome that control cell growth or inflammation, women are more likely to develop cervical cancer,” Casper said. “We will also compare the local and systemic immune reactions in these two groups of women.
The knowledge gained from the study could lead to improved prevention and treatment of HPV-associated cancers worldwide.”

Joining Casper and Frenkel on the project will be UCI director Dr. Jackson Orem and Dr. Noleb Mugisha, the head of the UCI Community Cancer Program and a Fred Hutch Global Oncology fellow.

— Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Biswajit "Bish" Paul
Biswajit "Bish" Paul Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Biswajit "Bish" Paul pens essay on diversity

One of the world's top academic journals this week showcased Biswajit "Bish" Paul’s personal essay exploring lack of diversity in science and the steps he and Fred Hutch colleagues are taking to resolve that gap.

His first-person piece appeared online Aug. 31 in Science – a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Titled “Diversity, funding, and grassroots organizing,” the article takes readers from Paul’s childhood bedroom, filled with jam jars of frogs, insects and other live critters for study, to his time as a U.S. grad student when he felt isolated and unsure “whether there was room in scientific research for people like me.”

He ultimately became a doctoral student in the Fred Hutch lab of Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem in the Clinical Research Division. His prior experience “propelled me to start investigating the relationship between funding restrictions and the lack of diversity in science,” he wrote. “I found that mine was not an isolated incident; it is a national problem.”

At the Hutch, Paul became involved with Hutch United, a grassroots diversity organization founded by grad students and postdocs. His discussions with fellow students from underrepresented backgrounds underscored the reality that funding uncertainty had discouraged many from pursuing careers in science.

After a year and a half of brainstorming and planning sessions, Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland approved institutional funding for two new Hutch United Fellowships, which pay for two years’ worth of salary and expenses for one graduate student and for one postdoctoral researcher. The first two recipients started receiving support in July. The fellowships are open to scientists from groups that are traditionally underrepresented, including women, racial minorities and scientists with disabilities. Hutch United also encouraged applications from frequently overlooked groups, such as scientists from low-income backgrounds and those who identify as LGBT, Paul wrote.

“Getting the fellowship started wasn’t easy, but it has been very gratifying to see firsthand how grassroots organizing can prompt institutional change,” he wrote.

“I feel both elated and nervous now that the piece has been published,” Paul said Wednesday.

“I am elated that I was given an opportunity to talk about an issue which is often overlooked. Additionally, I was able to showcase how a group of highly motivated, early-career scientists can come together and start creating systemic change,” Paul said. “At the same time, I am nervous since I am making myself vulnerable by taking a stance — a controversial one at that — and one that may be problematic depending on where I choose to work in the future.”

— Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

1100 Eastlake
1100 Eastlake Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutch’s 1100 Eastlake Building racks up another energy, sustainability award

Four years after it opened, Fred Hutch’s 1100 Eastlake Building continues to win accolades as one of the nation’s most energy-efficient laboratory and data center structures.

Facility Maintenance Decisions magazine just named it one of eight winners of a 2016 Facility Maintenance Decisions Achievement Award out of a field of 40 nominees from across the country. Winners will be honored Nov. 1 at the National Facilities Management & Technology Conference in Las Vegas.

“Despite the fact that the building has now been occupied for four years, it is still being recognized as a cutting-edge facility,” said Bob Cowan, Fred Hutch’s director of Facilities Engineering.

The latest award is in the category “retrofits and renovations.” Fred Hutch bought the 177,000 square foot building in 2010 as it was about to go into foreclosure. The plan was to transform the empty shell into the home of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, with 45 percent of the space devoted to laboratories and an 8,000-square-foot data center supporting computational work.

The challenge was to do so in an energy-efficient, cost-effective and sustainable manner — despite the fact that laboratories and data centers are notoriously inefficient.

The teams designing the retrofit looked at all of the energy conservation programs at the Hutch and came up with a list of key strategies to incorporate into the new facility, Cowan said. Among the innovations: Taking advantage of the Puget Sound climate by using outside air to cool the building, including its heat-generating data center, 90 percent of the time.

When the building opened in 2012, the numbers told the story:

  • Energy Use Index, or EUI, is a common way to measure and express a building’s total energy consumption. The lower the number, the more efficient the building. Laboratory buildings typically score between 350 and 400. The 1100 Eastlake Building is a cool 100
  • Power Utilization Effectiveness, or PUE, is used to measure data center efficiency. It is calculated by dividing the total power used by the amount of power used only for computing devises. A perfect score is 1, but the average for a typical data center is 2.5. The 1100 Eastlake Building comes in at 1.04.

The awards started rolling in right away, including the Washington Green Energy Award and the Associated General Contractors Award. More than 500 people — scientists, engineers, designers — have toured the building to glean its energy-saving innovations.

The Facility Maintenance Decisions award specifically acknowledges “the essential role maintenance and engineering departments play in the safe, sustainable and efficient operation of the nation’s institutional and commercial facilities,” according to Dave Lubach, the magazine’s associate editor. (The magazine is written for engineering and maintenance managers at K-12 schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, medical centers, government buildings, commercial office buildings, retail facilities and hotel chains.)

Cowan attributes the building’s success to the collaborative effort by the engineering, planning and design teams that “built on years of energy innovation that the Hutch has been doing, years of energy lessons we’ve learned and were able to incorporate.”

— Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Joseph Unger
Dr. Joseph Unger Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Study by Dr. Joseph Unger, colleagues shows almost no late, adverse consequences from drug finasteride

Men taking finasteride to reduce their risk of low-grade prostate cancer have little need to worry about adverse health effects later in life from the drug, Dr. Joseph Unger and colleagues reported in a new study.

“We were able to examine important issues of the long-term consequences of finasteride use by using a novel approach,” said Unger, a health services researcher and biostatistician at Fred Hutch. Unger works with SWOG, a nationwide cancer clinical trial consortium; its statistical center is housed at the Hutch.

Unger was lead author of the paper, published Aug. 26 by Oxford University Press and also published in Uro Today, a platform for online articles about genitourinary topics. Long-term adverse consequences of finasteride had not previously been examined. Some patients also use the drug to reduce chronic symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH.

To study potential long-term impacts, the researchers used a novel linkage between the clinical records from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) and Medicare claims – covering nearly 16 years per participant of potential assessment time. Nearly 14,000 of 18,880 participants in the PCPT were linked to Medicare claims for analysis. Patients were examined via randomized study arms (finasteride versus placebo) for any long-term effects from the drug, including cardiac, endocrine and sexual dysfunction, depression, diabetes, and BPH-related issues.

“We found that among the 17 individual conditions and three categories of conditions we examined, participants in the PCPT who received finasteride during the trial had almost no observed increase in late effects of the intervention when compared with those receiving placebo,” Unger said.

“These findings are significant because they help complete the picture of finasteride as a low-cost, generic drug that reduces the prevalence of prostate cancer and the long-term symptoms of (BPH) with almost no adverse consequences.”

— Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

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