News Releases

Tip Sheet: Engineering antibody-producing B cells; Editing genes via gold nanoparticles; and using AI to screen lung cancer patients

SEATTLE – June 4, 2019 – Below are summaries of recent Fred Hutch research, with links for additional background and media contacts.

Vaccine and Infectious Diseases

Engineering vaccine-like protection without a vaccine
Fred Hutch researchers are studying how B cells, a type of blood cell critical to the immune system, can be efficiently engineered to make antibodies against specific diseases, working much like a vaccine. In research published earlier this month in Science Immunology, a Hutch team led by Dr. Justin Taylor shows that B cells can be genetically engineered to make exactly the antibodies we want — demonstrating a potentially more precise and dependable way to generate protection without vaccines. While it is way too early to try this in humans, Taylor and his team have proven a principle: This entirely new way of inducing protection against infectious diseases — “B-cell engineering,” as he calls it — is a plausible alternative to antibody production induced by vaccines.
Media contact: Claire Hudson,, 206.667.7365

Special delivery: Gold nanoparticles ship CRISPR cargo
Fred Hutch researchers took a step toward making gene therapy more practical by simplifying the way gene-editing instructions are delivered to cells. Using a gold nanoparticle instead of an inactivated virus, they safely delivered gene-editing tools in lab models of HIV and inherited blood disorders, as reported May 27 in Nature Materials. It’s the first time that a gold nanoparticle loaded with CRISPR has been used to edit genes in a rare but powerful subset of blood stem cells, the source of all blood cells. The CRISPR-carrying gold nanoparticle led to successful gene editing in blood stem cells with no toxic effects.
Media contact: Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

Could an infant’s blood sample help model a better HIV vaccine?
A twenty-five-year-old blood sample from an infant infected with HIV could hold clues to modeling a better HIV vaccine, according to work published in Nature Communications by Fred Hutch researchers. The sample, which held a special HIV-blocking protein that can develop after HIV infection, was taken during a groundbreaking HIV transmission trial conducted in the early 1990s. At the time, antiretroviral drugs were not available and whether HIV could be transmitted through breast milk was unknown. HIV-positive mothers in Nairobi, Kenya, helped researchers discover that the virus could indeed spread to infants via breastmilk. Carefully preserved for more than two decades, the blood samples collected during this study are providing new answers to then-undreamed-of questions made possible by advances in research tools.
Media contact: Claire Hudson,, 206.667.7365

Health Disparities

New data on cancer disparities in Washington
Where a person lives has a big impact on whether they will live following a cancer diagnosis in Washington state, according to new data released May 13 by researchers in Fred Hutch’s health care economics and policy research group, the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research (HICOR). Your zip code, your race and your proximity to an oncology clinic all can influence the stage of a cancer diagnosis, which in turn influences survival. HICOR’s analysis of cancer registry records and health insurance claims between 2012 and 2017 accounted for about 70% of the state’s residents. It showed those living in the poorest or most disadvantaged neighborhoods were 40% more likely to be diagnosed at regional stage — that is, after a cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Even worse, these patients were 60% more likely to be diagnosed with metastatic or stage 4 disease, where the cancer has spread to vital organs. Race also put cancer patients at a disadvantage, the HICOR data showed. Black patients had a 20% higher rate of being diagnosed at a regional stage and a 30% higher rate of being diagnosed at distant stage than whites.
Media contact: Claire Hudson,, 206.667.7365


Landmark scientific paper turns 40
Forty years ago this month, a team of scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center published the first unequivocal report in humans that immune cells called T cells have the power to cure cancer. The finding, published in 1979 in the New England Journal of Medicine, emerged from patients who’d received a bone marrow transplant from the Hutch’s pioneering transplant team. They found that the donated bone marrow cells did not simply rescue patients from the high doses of radiation and chemotherapy they’d received to kill their cancer. Instead it was, in fact, those donor immune cells that were key to the potential cure.  The report opened the door to new protocols that made transplantation an option for many more patients and kickstarted the field of immunotherapy.
Media contact: Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

Basic Sciences 

Legionnaires' bacterium has a secret weapon — and a potential weakness
Fred Hutch researchers have discovered that the bacterium Legionella pneumophila can contaminate water systems and cause Legionnaires' disease, an atypical form of pneumonia, when bacteria-riddled water droplets are inhaled. The study, published earlier this month in the journal eLife by Fred Hutch researchers, reveals the unexpected molecular poison the bacterium uses to do so — and suggests a potential way to prevent an illness that strikes about 6,000 people each year in the U.S.
Media contact:
Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

Intersection of tech/ data/ bioscience

Artificial intelligence and cancer
Fred Hutch researchers are using a type of artificial intelligence called natural language processing, or NLP, to identify certain lung cancer patients in tumor registries who’d benefit from targeted therapies and personalized medicine. The results of their first study were published earlier this month in the JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics journal.
Media contact:
Tom Kim,, 206.667.6240

May Recognitions

Researchers at Fred Hutch are often recognized for their work. We are proud to celebrate their achievements and grateful to the awarding organizations.

Dr. Nancy E. Davidson receives Raisbeck Endowed Chair for Collaborative Research

Stephen Piscotty of the Oakland A's wins 54th annual Hutch Award

Washington’s CARE Fund awards Dr. Lucas Sullivan Distinguished Researcher grant

Fred Hutch makes its mark on historic Steam Plant

Fred Hutch awards pilot grants to 3 nonprofits to help build their capacity for health-disparities research

Beti Thompson Awards: Tackling health disparities

Department of Defense honors Fred Hutch manager for supporting employee military service

Harmit Malik elected to National Academy of Sciences



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