Good News: Hutch internship program widens educational clout; outpatient clinics open in Uganda; Dr. Stefan Radtke earns DGTI award

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Fred Hutch summer high school interns
Fred Hutch summer high-school interns acknowledge one of the internship program's private sponsors in the courtyard at Fred Hutch. Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Hutch high-school internship program widens educational clout 

The summer interns have now departed Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center labs for their own classrooms, but those 43 students — and their mentors — embody the program’s growing impact on high schools in the Puget Sound region, said the program’s leader.

“What’s incredible is that you take kids who have no idea where they stand in the continuum of performance because they’re all from different schools, and you make them believe in themselves,” said Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb, a transplant biologist at Fred Hutch and director of its intern program.

“They go away knowing that they belong, and they reach higher than they would have otherwise,” Torok-Storb said.

This marked the sixth year of the Hutch summer internship program — a paid, eight-week research experience that allows each participating student a chance to learn and conduct hands-on science within one of the center’s five divisions.

The program is geared toward, but not limited to, students from racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds often underrepresented in science. The goal is to provide them with education and opportunities and to have them eventually contribute to diversifying the biomedical workforce.

At its onset in 2011, four interns participated. For this session, Torok-Storb and her Hutch colleagues received and assessed more than 250 applications.

“Kids come with different levels of preparation (depending on the high school they attend). What you have to convince the kids who don’t come from good schools is that any deficiency they perceive in their own knowledge is just content-based,” Torok-Storb said. “They can make up for the fact that they didn’t get the content (in their school). But what you have to engender in them is a willingness to work and a belief that they can do it.

“I have myself as an example to tell them about,” said Torok-Storb, who comes from an impoverished background. Growing up, she said, she didn’t know that job opportunities like those at the Hutch existed.

As the number of interns has steadily expanded, so has the number of Hutch mentors eager to accept kids into their labs to guide and work with them on various scientific projects. 

Since 2013, 38 mentor labs have joined the internship program. The participating mentors represent these labs: Andrasik, Bai, Bedalov, Bedford, Bloom, Bradley, Emerman, Etzioni, Geballe, Georges, Ghajar, Harkey, Hockenbery, Kiem, Lampe (Paul), McIntosh, Matsen, Meshinchi, Moens, Nelson (Lee), Nelson (Peter), Oehler, Omberg, Overbaugh, Paddison, Parker, Parkhurst, Peichel, Porter, Radich, Salama, Stanford, Stephan, Stirewalt, Storb, Subramanian, Thompson and Torok-Storb.

“Many, many faculty members have come to the good side,” Torok-Storb said. “The faculty and their support is tremendous and absolutely essential. We wouldn’t do the program without the faculty commitment to it."

That support, she said, includes being championed by Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland.

Funding for Fred Hutch high school internship programs comes from public and private sources, including the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, AT&T, Inspirus Credit Union, the Richard C. Goldstein Private Foundation and other donors.

Torok-Storb and her colleagues expect to accept new applications for 2017 Fred Hutch high school internships starting in late February or early March. Participants must, by the summer of 2017, have completed 11th grade but not have graduated high school.

“We get fabulous letters from these kids (in the years after their internships) saying things like they were just accepted into (prestigious academic) programs because of their internship at the Hutch, and that it just changed their life,” she said.

“They become confidant that they can compete and that they belong.”

— By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service


The UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre adult outpatient clinics open
Uganda Cancer Institute Director Dr. Jackson Orem, left, and colleagues celebrated the move of two adult outpatient clinics into the UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre in Kampala, Uganda. Joining him are Magdalene Kintu, site administrator; Sarah Gerdts, research operations manger; Milton Oyuku, environmental health and safety and building operations officer; and Dr. Henry Ddungu. Photo courtesy of Linda Cherepow

Adult outpatient clinics open at Uganda-Fred Hutch facility

The decade-plus partnership between the Uganda Cancer Institute and Fred Hutch celebrated a new milestone this week: the adult outpatient clinics for gynecological cancers and Kaposi sarcoma moved from the UCI to the recently opened UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre.

“I know the entire team is looking forward to … realizing the full potential of this important investment to advance clinical care and groundbreaking research in Uganda,” Sarah Ewart, the managing director of Fred Hutch Global Oncology, wrote in an email to the Seattle and Kampala teams.

“It’s a dream come true,” replied Andrew Okot, the alliance’s manager of Operations and Human Resources, in an email from Kampala.

Just a short walk from the UCI on the same campus, the three-story building was designed as a state-of-the-art facility housing research laboratories, molecular diagnostic labs, a specimen repository, a training center, chemotherapy infusion rooms and inpatient clinics for children and adults — adding resources to and reducing pressure on Uganda’s only hospital solely devoted to cancer care.

Upon opening in 2015, the building was put to immediate use for trainings and meetings while the alliance worked to equip the laboratories. The molecular diagnostics and specimen-processing labs have since opened, and the histopathology lab is close to coming online, Ewart said.

The childrens outpatient clinic moved into the new building in March and has been averaging about 20 pediatric patients a day with leukemia, lymphoma (including Burkitt lymphoma) and solid tumors. Clinic directors anticipate seeing about 4,500 children a year.

The new adult outpatient clinics are expected to screen 100 women a week for cervical cancer and to see about 50 cervical, vulvar, endometrial and ovarian cancer patients and about 70 Kaposi sarcoma patients a week for checkups, infusions and other outpatient care. The building can accommodate about 20,000 outpatient visits a year and should reach that number with the addition of the adult clinics, Ewart said.

“It’s exciting to see the clinical areas of the building now fully occupied,” said Scott Rusch, Fred Hutch’s vice president of Facilities and Operations. “We’re honored that we could be part of such an important endeavor and contribute to the design, construction and now the startup of operations.”

In Uganda and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, cervical cancer is the most common cancer and the No. 1 cancer killer in women. Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system or in blood vessels and can appear as lesions on the skin, in the mouth, nose or throat and in the lungs and gastrointestinal tract, is the second-most common cancer in adult men in Uganda, after prostate cancer. It is also a common cancer among women, after cervical and breast cancer.

Both are infection-associated malignancies — cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection that most people shake off, and Kaposi sarcoma is caused by human herpesvirus 8, or HHV-8. Driving the high numbers in both cervical cancer and Kaposi sarcoma is the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, attacks the immune system, leaving those infected unable to fight off other infections. Despite gains made in increasing the number of Ugandans with HIV who are on lifelong medication, only about half of those who need antiretroviral treatment receive it.

Infection-associated cancers are a research priority for the UCI-Fred Hutch partnership, so the hope is that moving the outpatient clinics to the new building not only removes pressure and improves care in the short term but contributes to research that could lead to new ways to prevent or treat these diseases.

“Having our patient care in the building where we have our clinical research will allow us to integrate the two,” said Dr. Warren Phipps, a Kampala-based Fred Hutch researcher who serves as medical director and director of Faculty Development for the UCI-Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance.

“It will allow us to more effectively and efficiently invite patients to participate in research. It will also allow us to follow key patient populations over time to better understand the effectiveness of our treatment and track outcomes," Phipps said. "By continually doing that, we’ll be able to generate data that will help us identify gaps and understand where we need to focus our research efforts.”

— By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

DGTI chairman Prof. Rainer Blasczyk, left, with Dr. Stefan Radtke.
DGTI chairman Prof. Rainer Blasczyk, left, with Dr. Stefan Radtke.

Dr. Stefan Radtke receives DGTI award for blood stem cell research

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transfusionsmedizin und Immunhämatologie, or DGTI, (German Society for Transfusion Medicine and Immunohematology) has awarded the 2016 Fritz-Schiff Prize to Dr. Stefan Radtke, a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem’s laboratory at Fred Hutch. The biennial award honors outstanding young scientists age 35 or younger who have shown excellence in research on cancers of hematopoietic stem cells and associated diseases.  

Radtke was singled out for his work on establishing a system to identify and quantify blood stem cells. He began the research as a doctoral student at the Institute for Transfusion Medicine at the University Hospital Essen in Essen, Germany and continued at Fred Hutch, where he has been since October 2014. In Kiem’s lab, he is working to apply this system to preclinical and clinical treatment strategies. 

“Being able to identify, quantify and also purify these cells is a critical point for all treatments in humans where we aim to cure hematological diseases and disorders, especially for gene therapy and gene-editing strategies,” Radtke said.

Radtke received the award last month in Nuremberg, Germany, from DGTI’s chairman, Prof. Rainer Blasczyk, during the opening ceremony of the society’s annual meeting. The DGTI includes researchers from all German-speaking countries in Europe, with members in Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria. Radtke will present his work in December at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, or ASH, in San Diego.

— By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service


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