Good News: Dr. Jeff Whiteaker wins NCI Research Specialist Award; Human Biology gains four new faculty members

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Dr. Jeff Whiteaker
Dr. Jeff Whiteaker Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker earns NCI Research Specialist Award

Dr. Jeff Whiteaker, whose analytical science is helping drive nationally recognized proteomics research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has won an NCI Research Specialist Award.

The National Cancer Institute honor is offered to encourage the development of reliable career opportunities for “exceptional scientists” who seek to pursue biomedical study within existing cancer-research programs but who will not be serving as independent investigators, said an NCI news release. 

“I really appreciate the NCI for establishing the Research Specialist program. It is a unique award that recognizes the efforts of scientists, like myself that do not have independent research programs but make significant contributions to the research enterprise,” said Whiteaker, a staff scientist in the Hutch lab of Dr. Amanda Paulovich. 

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with so many talented colleagues here at the Hutch and abroad. I look forward to using this award in expanding my research interests in developing quantitative, multiplexed targeted proteomics assays and enabling biomedical research,” Whiteaker said.

Whiteaker, along with Paulovich — a Fred Hutch geneticist and oncologist in the Clinical Research Division — spearheaded development of the NCI Assay Portal, a crucial piece of the scientific framework needed to modernize the study of proteins and the role proteins play in cancer.

The portal, part of the NCI’s Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium, is considered 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. But 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, Paulovich was invited by Vice President Joe Biden to attend the National Moonshot Summit in Washington, D.C., where a new proteomics initiative was announced.

“Dr. Whiteaker is an exceptional analytical scientist whose complementary experience and skills allowed me to apply my own background in oncology and genomics to clinical proteomics beginning over a decade ago,” Paulovich said. “Without Jeff’s mass spectrometry expertise to complement my background, our interdisciplinary translational proteomics program would not have succeeded.”

Whiteaker, Paulovich added, contributes integrally to all aspects of their mutual research program, which is now having a meaningful impact for the larger research community by providing validated and reproducible tools for quantitative, high-throughput, multiplexable measurement of proteins, and the application of these tools to address important questions in oncology. 

“I couldn’t be more grateful to work with Jeff, and he is so deserving of this award,” Paulovich said.

— Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service 


Dr. Alice Berger
Dr. Alice Berger Courtesy of Dr. Alice Berger

Human Biology Division gains four new faculty members

The Human Biology Division at Fred Hutch welcomes four new junior faculty members this fall.

They are: cancer genomicist and new Human Biology member Dr. Alice Berger, who comes from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and who established her lab at the Hutch earlier this month; Drs. Taran Gujral and Supriya Saha, who will arrive from Harvard University in October; Dr. Sita Kugal, also from Harvard, will come in December.

In Dr. Matthew Meyerson’s lab at the Broad Institute, Berger researched the effects of gene variants in lung cancer and began developing high-throughput techniques to assess the effects of a wide array of gene variants on cancer development and drug response.

“I’m particularly interested in precision medicine, and this notion of stratifying patients’ therapies based on the genetics of their tumor or other factors, like lifestyle,” Berger said. “What I want to do is understand how the mutations in a tumor influence a patient’s prognosis and use this information to determine the most appropriate treatment course for each patient.”

Lung adenocarcinoma, the type of lung cancer Berger studies, is rich in gene mutations — making it difficult to separate mutations with strong effects on tumor growth, prognosis and drug response from those mutations that have no effect. Berger will continue her pursuit of methods that can quickly distinguish important mutations that affect tumor behavior and may be potential therapeutic targets.

“I’m really looking forward to … collaborating with clinicians to translate that information into benefit for patients,” Berger said.

Gujral researches the signaling networks that cells use to respond to their environment. He will bring this expertise to bear in studying metastasis and how contact between cells regulates cell fate decisions.

Saha plans to establish a research program on targeted therapies in liver cancer, which has seen a global increase in incidence over the last four decades. Saha focuses on a particular subtype of liver cancer, intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, or ICC, and brings a comprehensive set of model systems in which to study how ICC develops and gains resistance to current therapies.

Kugel investigates the role of chromatin modifying enzymes in pancreatic cancer. In particular, she hopes to clarify how dysregulation or abnormality in the enzymes that modify DNA leads to cancer, and how this process could be exploited to develop new cancer therapies.

— Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service 

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