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Discovery could help disarm the flu

Influenza virus particles

Influenza virus particles

Photo by C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish, Center for Disease Control

Fred Hutch researchers uncovered a previously unknown way that influenza infects cells – a finding that ultimately may have implications for immunity against the flu.

Influenza viruses have two main proteins on their surface that allow them to do their dirty work: a protein called hemagglutinin helps viruses break into cells, while a protein called neuraminidase allows viruses to break out again to spread the infection.

In a paper in the Journal of Virology, Dr. Jesse Bloom and Kathryn Hooper, a graduate research assistant in Bloom’s lab in the Basic Sciences Division, describe a surprising new twist: an influenza virus that instead uses neuraminidase to attach to cells.

It’s not clear what this means for human influenza, but Bloom and Hooper have shown that neuraminidase is present in human versions of the virus.

“This was not a mutation we expected to find in the lab, let alone in viruses that have infected humans,” Hooper said. “It suggests there is influenza circulating in nature that may be infecting cells by a mechanism that has been overlooked.”

Understanding these types of variations, which could enable the virus to escape from certain antibodies, may help researchers learn how to better spark immunity against influenza.

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Identifying genes linked to esophageal cancer

Dr. Tom Vaughan

Dr. Tom Vaughan

Photo by Stephanie Cartier

This year, esophageal cancer will strike nearly 18,000 Americans and kill more than 15,000. The number of people diagnosed with esophageal cancer has been rising in recent years, and a link has been shown between the disease and increasingly common health problems like obesity and reflux. Now, Dr. Tom Vaughan and his colleagues have added to evidence that heredity also plays a key role.

In a paper in Nature Genetics, Vaughan and Dr. David Whiteman identified four genetic variants associated with increased risk of esophageal cancer and its precursor, Barrett’s esophagus. Vaughan is an epidemiologist in Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division and Whiteman heads the Cancer Control Group at Australia’s QIMR (formerly known as the Queensland Institute for Medical Research).

The researchers identified genetic variants at three locations – on chromosomes 3, 9 and 19 – as being significantly associated with esophageal adenocarcinoma and Barrett’s esophagus. They found that a genetic variant on chromosome 16, which had been previously linked to Barrett’s esophagus, is also associated with an increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.

These findings could contribute to the development of new screening tools to identify those at highest risk of esophageal cancer and Barrett’s esophagus, particularly when combined with established risk factors such as obesity.

“Down the line, we anticipate … this will lead to better and earlier treatments,” Vaughan said.

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Fish schooling may shed light on human behavior

Dr. Anna Greenwood

Dr. Anna Greenwood investigates the genetic factors behind fish schooling.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer

How and why fish swim in schools has long fascinated biologists looking to understand social behavior in many animals – including people.

A study led by Dr. Anna Greenwood found that two key components of schooling – the tendency to school and how well fish do it – map to different genomic regions in a fish called the threespine stickleback. This discovery could be a step toward understanding how genes drive human social behavior.

“Some of the same brain regions and neurological chemicals that control human social behavior are probably involved in fish social behavior as well,” said Greenwood, a staff scientist in Fred Hutch’s Human Biology Division.

Research on fish schooling may seem an odd fit for a cancer research center, but Greenwood said natural genetic variation can influence not just behavior but also susceptibility to illness and disease.

“If we can understand … the genes that tend to be affected during evolution in these other model systems, we can apply that to humans,” she said.

Read more about this study

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Online game offers new way to donate

A new online game serves as a creative fundraising tool for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and five other nonprofits. The game, called “Quingo,” was launched by Seattle-based startup Game It Forward.

Quingo combines the fun of bingo with the challenge of trivia questions and is available on iTunes for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Downloading and playing Quingo is free, but users can buy additional time and pay for extra in-game options. A portion of the money players spend, along with revenue generated from in-game ads, is donated to charity. Quingo players can select one of six nonprofits to play for, including Fred Hutch.

“Quingo is a really innovative way to connect people with our lifesaving work,” said Fred Hutch’s Vice President for Development Susan Dolbert. “We are delighted to partner with Game It Forward and work together to have fun and support research to save lives.”

Game donations support one of five projects at Fred Hutch including: optides research through Project Violet, one day of breast cancer research, hot lunches for Hutch School students, teacher training through the Science Education Partnership and patient housing at Pete Gross House.

To download Quingo, visit iTunes or

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Obliteride registration opens January 6

The second annual Obliteride bicycling event will take place Aug. 8-10. Registration opens on Jan. 6.

Nearly 700 riders participated in last summer's inaugural event, which raised $1.9 million to support Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s lifesaving work. Thanks to sponsors like University Village, every dollar goes directly to cancer research. 

“Our first Obliteride was such a magical weekend of community, hope, summer, celebration, and cycling, that we hope many more people can enjoy it with us in 2014,” said Amy Lavin, Obliteride’s executive director.

Learn more at

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Hutch Award Luncheon

Wednesday, January 30, 2014
Safeco Field, 12-1:30 p.m.
Register today!

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