About Basic Sciences


Providing the foundation for curing cancer and other diseases by engaging in fundamental science that leads to key discoveries


Basic research is at the foundation of all scientific discoveries, underlying the innovative cures and treatments developed at Fred Hutch. Founded in 1981, the Basic Sciences Division has continually evolved to be at the forefront of discovery; seeking to understand the fundamental underpinnings of our own biology as well as the dysregulations that cause disease. Our research has yielded numerous landmark breakthroughs and scientific advances. We believe an inclusive, collaborative, egalitarian and creative environment is the basis for scientific innovation and world-changing discoveries.

Black Lives Matter Banner Over Fred Hutch

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Fred Hutch stands with the victims and families of police brutality and systemic racism inherent in the United States. We believe that Black Lives Matter.

As a division we are committed to dismantling structural racism in science, diversifying our workforce and ensuring that all the members of the division have a supportive environment. As part of these ongoing efforts, trainees in the division have initiated the creation of a discussion group that will help us continually engage with, learn about, and challenge discrimination. We encourage everyone in the division to participate in events and activities aligned with these goals.

Learn more about the actions Fred Hutch is taking to end racial injustice and promote change at our organization and in our community.

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Highlights from Basic Sciences:

Basic Sciences 2019-2020 Report

“Every day there’s a new problem to consider. It’s rewarding to lead a department whose goal is to answer fundamental questions about the innermost working of our cells.”

— Sue Biggins

Our Leadership

See our Faculty & Labs
Dr. Sue Biggins

Director, Sue Biggins, Ph.D.

Dr. Biggins is director of the Basic Sciences Division, an affiliate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. In her lab, she studies one of biology’s most fundamental processes: how cells sort chromosomes, the long molecules in which DNA is packaged. When chromosomes sort, or segregate, improperly, cellular processes go awry. Cells with too many or too few chromosomes can cause cancer, birth defects, or miscarriage.

Biggins led the first team to isolate the kinetochore, the large molecular machine that coordinates chromosome segregation. The ability to study this key molecular complex in test tubes paved the way for critical new findings, including the role that tension plays in chromosome sorting. Biggins is now working to understand more about how kinetochores form and how they work.

The region of the chromosome to which the kinetochore attaches is called the centromere. Her research also focuses on how cells maintain the location and unique molecular characteristics of the centromere during cellular processes including cell division.

Biggins received her Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton University and conducted her postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco. She joined the Fred Hutch faculty in 2000 and served as associate director of the Basic Sciences Division from 2009 to 2018. In 2015 she was selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

Biggins has served on numerous national scientific committees and review groups, including the Next Generation of Science committee of the National Academy of Sciences, which aims to improve science for early stage investigators in the U.S. She has also been actively involved in editing for scientific journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Cell Biology, Genetics and PLOS Genetics. She is currently a member of the Coalition of Life Sciences, a national alliance that fosters policies to promote research in the US.

She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Washington State Academy of Sciences, and is a fellow of the American Society of Cell Biology. Her awards include the 2015 Edward Novitski Prize from the Genetics Society of America and the 2013 National Academy of Sciences Molecular Biology Award.

Dr. Harmit Malik

Associate Director, Harmit Malik, Ph.D.

Dr. Malik is an associate director of the Basic Sciences Division, an affiliate professor of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. The Malik Lab studies the role that genetic conflicts (or evolutionary ‘arms-races’) play in shaping fundamental aspects of biology, from host-virus interactions and outcomes, to competition between chromosomes during gametogenesis.

Dr. Malik received his Ph.D. in biology from University of Rochester in Dr. Tom Eickbush’s lab, where he delineated a universal framework to describe the evolution of selfish retroelements in eukaryotic genomes. He then conducted his postdoctoral work at the Fred Hutch in Steve Henikoff’s lab, where he and Steve described their hypothesis that selfish competition between chromosomes could drive rapid evolution of centromeres and even result in speciation, the process by which one species splits into two. After his postdoc, Harmit joined the Fred Hutch faculty in 2003. In 2009, he was selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist and then appointed HHMI Investigator in 2013.

Dr. Malik’s research interests include an evolution-guided study of host-virus interactions, a project in which he collaborates with Dr. Michael Emerman and Dr. Adam Geballe. He actively collaborates with other faculty at the Hutch and co-mentors students and postdocs along with them. Several former trainees of the Malik lab are faculty in prestigious research institutions and several are considered leaders in their respective scientific fields. Dr. Malik is passionate about continuing the excellent Fred Hutch traditions in mentoring trainees and junior faculty

Dr. Malik has also been actively involved in editing for scientific journals. He currently serves on the editorial board of PLOS Biology, PLOS Genetics, Current Biology, Molecular Biology & Evolution, Virus Evolution and Annual reviews of Virology. He also wastes an inordinate amount of time on social media.

Dr. Toshio Tsukiyama

Associate Director, Toshio Tsukiyama, Ph.D., D.V.M.

Dr. Tsukiyama is an associate director of the Basic Sciences Division and affiliate Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington.

Tsukiyama studies how genetic information is stored, maintained, and taken out as needed. These mechanisms are essential for normal life, as their mis-regulation leads to cancer, developmental defects or cell death.

The research of the Tsukiyama lab focuses on chromatin, the protein-DNA complex in the nucleus that stores genetic information: How is chromatin regulated such that genetic information is securely stored, duplicated and "read"? This question is asked in the context to cell quiescence, a state in which cells stop dividing and stay seemingly quiet for a long time, sometimes for months or years. Proper regulation of quiescence is essential for normal development, cell survival and prevention of cancer, but how cells can accomplish such a special state is not well understood.

As a co-associate director with Harmit Malik, Tsukiyama will help Dr. Biggins to keep the Basic Sciences Division a special place for fundamental scientific research.

Susan Silbernagel

Senior Operations Director, Susan Silbernagel, M.P.A.

Susan Silbernagel is the senior operations director for the Basic Sciences Division. She oversees strategic planning and all operational, financial and human resources for the Division.

Cultivating Next-Generation Researchers

Our division strives to attract the most dedicated and accomplished researchers to further the atmosphere of scientific excellence at Fred Hutch. With the goal of fostering advancement and collaboration, our senior faculty cultivates the scientific growth of younger researchers and supports their scientific development.

The division is committed to graduate education. Since 1994, we have participated in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program, a partnership between Fred Hutch and the University of Washington. In 2000, we established the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award and Symposium. Held annually at the Hutch, the prestigious award recognizes outstanding achievement in biology by graduate students worldwide.

Contact Us

Division Administrators 

Susan Silbernagel

Senior Operations Director 

Christy Majorowicz

Associate Operations Director

Phone: 206.667.4496
Fax: 206.667.5939

Jill Thomas

Administrative Manager

Dominique Soldato

Events Coordinator

Matthew Ross

Science Communication Liaison

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