Fred Hutch researchers excel at understanding the biology of pathogen-related cancers, identifying the immune system’s interaction with both pathogens and cancers, and leveraging that knowledge to develop and test innovative strategies that improve care for patients worldwide. The PAM IRC builds on those strengths, interfacing closely with other programs, including our Immunotherapy and Translational Data Sciences IRCs, and our Global Oncology, Cancer Prevention, Epidemiology and Cancer Basic Biology Programs.

Virally-Associated Cancers    

Several viruses can directly or indirectly promote cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with almost all cases of cervical cancer, as well as anogenital cancers and a growing number of head and neck cancers. Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare but aggressive skin cancer, is often caused by infection with Merkel cell polyomavirus. A type of herpesvirus promotes Kaposi sarcoma and the Epstein-Barr virus can cause lymphoma. Additionally, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses are linked to liver cancer. HIV infection increases the risk of many cancers.

Work by Hutch scientists involved with the PAM IRC have made lifesaving strides against virally associated cancers. Our director, Dr. Denise Galloway, helped establish the link between HPV and cervical cancer, made fundamental discoveries that helped pave the way for the cancer-preventive HPV vaccine, and led the award-winning team that performed the proof-of-principal clinical trial showing that the HPV vaccine protected against HPV infection.

Dr. Galloway also collaborated with Dr. Paul Nghiem to develop a test to detect MCC recurrence. Dr. Nghiem transformed MCC therapy by introducing checkpoint inhibitors, a type of immunotherapy, to treat the disease.

PAM IRC scientists are working to extend these successes to other cancers caused by viruses. We are working to better understand how different viruses cause cancer or raise cancer risk. We are striving to create better treatments for these cancers, including developing new vaccines and immunotherapies to tackle virus-caused tumors.

Bacteria and Cancer    

Helicobacter pylori infection is one of the strongest risk factors for gastric cancer and is also more rarely linked to a type of lymphoma. The makeup of our microbiome and diet may also play a role in the formation of colorectal cancer. Our scientists are working to understand how the bacteria in our stomach and intestinal tract can influence the development of cancer or response to therapies. We aim to develop better ways to prevent cancer formation, detect cancer and identify patients at high risk of developing cancer, and explore new ways to treat bacterially associated cancers.    

Taylor Lab
Holly Steach works in Taylor Lab. Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Infections Pathogens and Related Cancers    

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – Cervical, other anogenital and oropharyngeal (throat and head and neck) cancers
  • Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) – Merkel cell carcinoma (a rare skin cancer)
  • Hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV/HCV) – Hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer)
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) – Burkitt, Hodgkin and other lymphomas and nasopharyngeal and some gastric (stomach) cancers
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum – colorectal tumors
  • Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV; HHV8) – Kaposi sarcoma
  • Human T-cell lymphotrophic virus (HTLV-1) – some T-cell leukemias and lymphomas
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV1) – many cancers
  • Helicobacter pylori – gastric (stomach) cancer, mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma
  • Clonorchis sinensis & Opisthorchis viverrini (liver parasites) – Biliary, pancreatic and gallbladder cancers
  • Schistosoma haemotobium (blood parasite) – bladder cancer

Bold = PAM IRC focus