News Releases

Tip Sheet: Tracking coronavirus, improving immunotherapies, cancer death rates decline, AAAS meeting and more

SEATTLE – Feb. 3, 2020 – Below are summaries of recent Fred Hutch research findings with links for additional background and media contacts.

Note: If you’re attending the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle, see our media advisory on a Fred Hutch press event on the future of medicine. It includes a panel of Hutch scientists in gene therapy, data science and healthcare economics and will be moderated by new Fred Hutch President Dr. Thomas J. Lynch, Jr.


Tracking the coronavirus epidemic
This is a round-up of information on the novel coronavirus, which was declared “a public health emergency of international concern” Jan. 30 by the World Health Organization. Dr. Trevor Bedford, of the Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, is working with a team of scientists to analyze the spread of the virus. For more updates, follow Bedford (@trvrb) and NextStrain (@nexstrain).
Media contact: Claire Hudson,, 206.667.7365


Does CAR T-cell therapy leave patients vulnerable to infection?
CAR T-cell therapy can beat back even advanced leukemias and lymphomas, but it comes at a cost. The proteins the engineered cells target appear on both cancerous and healthy B cells, which make infection-fighting antibodies. CAR T cells can’t distinguish these, so they destroy both, and the long-term effects of CAR T-cell therapy on this key part of the immune system are poorly understood. A new five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Moonshot program to Dr. Joshua Hill will be used to address critical knowledge gaps in how best to provide long-term care to CAR T-cell therapy patients.
Media contact: Claire Hudson,, 206.667.7365

Big gains in bone marrow transplant survival since mid-2000s
A bone marrow transplant can be a lifesaving treatment, but it can come with life-threatening risks. The encouraging news for patients: Those risks have been plummeting for years. According to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the overall risk of death after transplant dropped 34% between 2003-2007 and 2013-2017. Those gains stem from a sharp decline in transplant-related complications, said corresponding author Dr. George McDonald. The risk of dying from those complications — mostly due to infections and diseases involving the liver, kidneys, and lungs — has fallen from 30% to 11% over the past 25 years. McDonald thinks further clinical research by infectious disease experts and medical specialists will help drive down the risk of death from transplant-related complications into the single digits.
Media contact: Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

Gene Editing and Gene Therapy

CRISPR-based tool solves genetic mystery 80 million years in the making
We don’t have much in common with mice. So, it seems obvious that any bits of DNA that have resisted the forces of evolution and remained identical between mice and humans must be critical. In a new study published in Nature Genetics, scientists at Fred Hutch showed that yes, these ultra-conserved DNA elements are essential. Looking at a subclass of ultraconserved elements known as poison exons, the investigators found that certain poison exons were essential for cell growth while others acted to suppress the growth of lung tumor cells in mice.
Media contact: Tom Kim,, 206.667.6240

Making gene therapy for HIV more accessible
During a TEDx Seattle talk he gave last November, now available online, Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem discussed how gene therapy can be used to change the way we treat HIV, cancer, and other diseases. Current technologies are expensive, risky and require high-tech facilities, making them inaccessible to many people living with HIV today. Kiem hopes to change this through new technologies, like “gene therapy in a syringe”.
Media contact: Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

Data Science

Collaborating for cures: New initiative helps cancer data cross borders
One of the program recipients of Microsoft’s new AI for Health Initiative is the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative, launched by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and sponsored by Microsoft. CDDI aims to establish a regional data-sharing ecosystem. It brings together institutions from across the Pacific Northwest with a simple goal: to make it easier for researchers to find and share biomedical data, and to collaborate. Microsoft's AI for Health initiative is a new $40 million, five-year program to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world.
Media contact: Tom Kim,, 206.667.6240


Largest single-year drop in cancer death rates continues encouraging trend
The sharpest one-year decline in death due to cancer, from 2016-2017, continues a 26-year-long trend in declining cancer mortality rates, according to the latest data published by the American Cancer Society. This drop reflects a decline in death from the top four cancers: lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate — but primarily lung. The decline in overall cancer mortality is a well-established trend that began in 1991 and reflects the successful implementation of a broad range of research advances including in prevention, early detection, and treatment, such as new immunotherapies.
Media contact: Tom Kim,, 206.667.6240

Are we doing diet and nutrition research wrong?
Why is it so hard to pinpoint what’s good, bad, and ugly when it comes to food and our health? A Q&A with public health researcher Dr. Ross Prentice discusses how to assess and improve studies of diet and chronic disease, in light of his recent editorial about the challenges of nutritional research for the Annals of Internal Medicine. Prentice calls for the development of additional intake biomarkers, and further study of metabolites and microorganisms of the gut and mouth to improve nutritional research.
Media contact: Tom Kim,, 206.667.6240

Basic Sciences

Differences in cells’ ability to turn genes into proteins change how mutations manifest
Why do individuals with matching DNA vary? And how do those nongenetic differences affect risk of genetically influenced diseases like cancer? New work from scientists at Fred Hutch and the University of Washington shows that a cell’s capacity to turn genes into proteins influences its characteristics. They observed that differences in this capacity influence how strongly a cancer-related mutation changes a worm’s characteristics. Whether a mutation manifests, and how strongly, comes down to cellular physiology. The findings could help explain why only certain mutated cells turn cancerous, or why only certain members of a family carrying the same disease-causing mutation get that disease.
Media contact: Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

New insights into how Helicobacter, the cancer-causing stomach bacterium, keeps its shape
How does Helicobacter pylori make itself helical? It’s a fundamental question with practical applications: many antibiotics, including penicillin, interfere with the integrity of bacterial cell walls. In new work published in eLife, scientists at Fred Hutch revealed that H. pylori maintains its helical shape by targeting cell-wall synthesis to two areas with opposite curvature properties. Stomach cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death across the globe, and one of the main risk factors for this disease is infection with H. pylori. A deeper understanding of how the bacterium creates and maintains its shape even as it grows and divides could spur the development of more cell-wall attacking antibiotics.
Media contact: Molly McElroy,, 206.667.6651

Other notable news

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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.