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Science Says: The promise of precision medicine

How understanding unique traits of individuals and their cancers can lead to precise treatments

Dr. Tom Lynch spoke with Drs. Alice Berger, Lucas Sullivan and Christopher Li at Fred Hutch's Science Says virtual event on May 25, 2022, about how emerging technologies and a growing volume and variety of molecular data are allowing scientists to create personalized cancer therapies and prevention strategies.

Video by Fred Hutch

Precision oncology is a revolution in cancer care. Researchers are learning how to stop cancer by sequencing a patient’s tumor, studying its metabolism, tracking the immune system’s response and so much more.

And scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center are at the forefront. During the Hutch's virtual Science Says event on May 25, Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Thomas J. Lynch Jr. talked with three of them, who are discovering how traits unique to individuals and their cancers can help us design precise prevention and treatment strategies.

Here are a few of the top takeaways from the event:

  • Lynch is a lung cancer physician and precision oncology pioneer who has been involved in its evolution for nearly 20 years. “The good news is that we’ve found more types of cancer than we could ever imagine existed when I started my career,” said Lynch, who holds the Raisbeck Endowed Chair. “But we have much work to do to really understand how we can turn those understandings into curative treatments, because that's our goal.”

  • Dr. Chris Li just launched a deep molecular dive to understand how dormant breast cancer cells wake up and spread months or years after a patient finishes treatment. In this project, as in all of his research, he is intentional about recruiting participants from all backgrounds. “The risk of dying of cancer is different in different racial and ethnic groups,” said Li, vice president for Faculty Affairs and Diversity and holder of the Helen G. Edson Endowed Chair for Breast Cancer Research. “We can’t realize the promise of precision oncology unless we include groups that experience disparate outcomes.”

  • Dr. Alice Berger, a lung cancer researcher who holds the Innovators Network Endowed Chair, mused on how precision oncology will inform care in the future. Everything we learn now about molecular drivers of cancer, she said, will become part of a “toolkit” that providers will use to individualize treatment. “We’ll have a common set of strategies that are applied differently to patients based on their unique circumstances.”

  • Dr. Lucas Sullivan, a specialist in cell metabolism, said, “New tools that allow us to detect and measure small molecules at amazing resolution are helping us find nuanced metabolic targets for cancer therapies.” Fred Hutch’s culture, which emphasizes scientific collaboration over competition, he added, has helped push his research in exciting and unexpected directions. 

Science Says has held 17 events to date, with nearly 11,000 attendees, and it will continue after a summer break. In the meantime, the Hutch community is invited to participate in Obliteride, in person or virtually. Learn more and register at obliteride.org.

Dr. Tom Lynch recently visited the lab of Dr. Alice Berger to learn what her team is up to. 

Video by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

On April 1, 2022, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance became Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, a single, independent, nonprofit organization that is also a clinically integrated part of UW Medicine and UW Medicine’s cancer program. Read more about the restructure.

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Last Modified, May 31, 2022