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W.M. Keck Foundation gives $1.5 million boost to cancer genomics research at the Hutchinson Center

Center's second major grant from the philanthropic foundation in recent weeks

At the core of every cancer cell is a genome in chaos, containing thousands of genes gone awry. Understanding the genes involved in cancer, therefore, offers the best hope of prevention, treatment and cure.

To encourage support of such critical research at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles has made a $1.5 million gift to the Center's new Cancer Genomics Initiative, established last year to unravel the genetic underpinnings of malignancy.

The rapid accumulation of genetic information currently being generated by the Human Genome Project -- the quest to identify all 100,000 genes that comprise the human blueprint -- makes genomics the most data-intensive area of biomedical research ever attempted. This discipline depends on cutting-edge instruments to obtain massive amounts of data, which in turn must be stored, managed and analyzed using advanced, computer-driven technology.

In genomics, computers are the scientific instruments that let scientists "see" genomes, just as electron microscopes let them see viruses. With the support of the Keck grant, the Hutchinson Center will expand its access to the latest computer-based genomic technology, such as state-of-the-art DNA chip equipment. DNA chips are small silicon plates similar to computer chips that allow tens of thousands of DNA samples to be assembled and analyzed at once. This technology will allow scientists to gain years in the fight against cancer.

"Research results of the last few decades have taught us that cancer arises from specific genetic changes in cancer cells and that these changes are driven by massive genomic instability in the cancer cell," says Dr. Lee Hartwell, president and director of the Hutchinson Center. "The new science of genomics permits researchers, for the first time, to investigate in a comprehensive manner all the changes taking place in the cancer cell."

Among the anticipated outcomes of the Cancer Genomics Initiative are the discovery of new cancer drugs, compounds that cause cell death, genes that allow leukemia patients to respond to therapy, genes that play a role in the formation of solid tumors, and the molecular processes that influence cancer risk.

The W.M. Keck Foundation gave the money as a "challenge grant" with the goal of inspiring other private donors to match its generosity in supporting genomics research at the Hutchinson Center.

"The Keck grant gives us the resources to develop an outstanding genomics facility that will keep us at the forefront of cancer genetics research," Hartwell says. "The comprehensive genetic analysis afforded by these new technologies will bring important advances to our understanding of cancer and hopefully to earlier diagnosis, more specific therapy and ultimately to prevention."

The grant also will go toward the recruitment of new faculty in the fields of epidemiology (population studies to evaluate cancer risk) and cancer genomics, as well as an endowment to support genomics faculty, fellowships and equipment.

The W.M. Keck Foundation, one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, focuses primarily on fostering pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering.

In July the Foundation also gave $1 million to support the research of the Hutchinson Center's Dr. Bruce Clurman through its Keck Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research Program. Clurman, a molecular biologist who also treats bone-marrow transplant patients at the Hutchinson Center, is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington. One of five recipients of this prestigious new award, his work aims to understand the genes responsible for cell-cycle malfunction in cancer cells. His ultimate goal: to develop more effective cancer treatments.

The Hutchinson Center's Genomics Initiative also has received support from The Rathmann Family Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the Ben B. Cheney Foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the National Cancer Institute.

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The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the Center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. The Hutchinson Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, visit the Center's Web site at <>.

CONTACT: Kristen Woodward
(206) 667-5095

Aug. 24, 1999

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