Forbes '30 Under 30' lists Hutch immunotherapy researcher Alex Salter

Grad student on short list of young health care influencers
Photo of Alex Salter speaking to Joe Biden in a laboratory setting
Alex Salter speaks with former Vice President Joseph Biden about his research in the Riddell Lab during Biden's visit to Fred Hutch on March 21, 2016. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Alex Salter was listed on Tuesday as a Forbes “30 Under 30,” an annual who's-who of influencers under age 30 in the U.S. and Canada. The M.D./Ph.D. student in the lab of Dr. Stan Riddell at Fred Hutch made the list of 30 standouts in the health care category.

The magazine says that the honorees in 20 categories represent “a collection of bold risk-takers putting a new twist on the old tools of the trade.”

Salter said that he is “incredibly honored” to be included on the list. “While I am still early on in my career as a physician-scientist, I look forward to making meaningful scientific contributions that will push the limits of medicine and improve lives,” he said.

Salter is working to improve an immune-harnessing strategy for treating cancer, called CAR T-cell therapy. In this type of therapy, a patient’s immune cells are removed from their bodies and genetically reprogrammed in a lab to make a cancer-targeting weapon called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR. Then, the armed cells are multiplied to the billions in the lab and delivered back into the patient’s bloodstream to fight their cancer.

CAR T-cell therapies have shown great promise in treating certain intractable cancers, but there is a long way to go to make them more effective and safer for more patients and in more types of cancer. To this end, Salter studies how these man-made molecular weapons actually work to activate T cells’ killing powers. He is figuring out how to alter their designs to make them work better in different applications.

“Most of the stuff that’s done clinically [in CAR T-cell therapy] is very simple: You’ve taken the same backbone and just put a different head on it to target a different cancer,” Salter said in an interview earlier this year. “Where my research has come into play is saying maybe that’s too simplistic for what we need to be doing. We need to understand a lot more about how these receptors function.”

Salter’s fellow honorees in the health care category include scientists at top research organizations nationwide, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University. Others are founders of health care venture-capital firms, biotech startups and health-related nonprofits. The youngest honoree in the category is an 18-year-old who is developing a new way of diagnosing Parkinson’s disease. Others’ projects are in areas as diverse as drug development, stem cell therapy and mobile technology for addiction treatment.

The other “30 Under 30” categories range from sports and entertainment to manufacturing and finance. The magazine says that thousands of people were nominated. Three layers of judging by beat reporters and outside experts winnowed those down to the 600 young people on the final list.

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Susan Keown was a staff editor and writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center from 2014-2022 who has written about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions. Find her on Twitter @sejkeown.

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