Cell & Gene Therapy

Translating Discoveries into Cures

Cell-based therapies have become a standard of care for many cancers and other diseases. One prominent example is stem cell transplantation to replace malignant white blood cells in the bone marrow — most commonly to treat leukemia and lymphoma. Bone marrow transplantation was pioneered at Fred Hutch, earning Dr. E. Donnall Thomas the Nobel Prize in 1990. Fred Hutch researchers continue to lead the way in this field, which includes stem cell transplantation from peripheral blood and umbilical cord blood.

Our research on cell-based therapies also includes cutting-edge immunotherapies that harness the patient’s own immune cells to fight disease, including genetic engineering of immune cells to attack and kill cancer cells. In one approach, patients’ T cells are programmed with synthetic receptors called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to kill cancer cells that bear certain cell-surface proteins.

Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell transplants are a potential cure for many advanced blood cancers because they replace a patient’s damaged immune system with a healthy one from a donor with a compatible tissue type. The stem cell transplant typically takes place after chemotherapy, radiation or both to destroy the cells causing disease. Dozens of researchers at Fred Hutch are working to improve the safety of transplantation procedures, which come with potentially life-threatening risks, including infection and graft-vs.-host disease, whereby the newly transplanted donor immune system attacks the recipient's healthy cells. Major innovations include the “mini-transplant,” which requires a minimal dose of radiation, and foundational research on donor-patient matching.

Cord blood transplants, which use stem cells from a newborn’s umbilical cord, are a lifesaving option for patients who cannot find a suitable match among family members or from bone marrow registries. Researchers in our Cord Blood Program are working toward improving transplant outcomes and better understanding how cord blood cells take hold in a patient.

Making Gene Therapy Affordable

Dr. Jennifer Adair has created a portable device that enables medical staff to genetically manipulate a patient’s blood stem cells without the need for an expensive and highly regulated facility. The device may help pave the way toward making gene therapy accessible and affordable beyond a handful of specialized research centers around the world.

Immunotherapy and Genetic Engineering

Some of the most exciting advances in immunotherapy involve the genetic engineering of patients’ immune cells to attack their cancer cells, using gene editing technologies such as CRISPR. Pioneering immunotherapy researcher Dr. Phil Greenberg focuses on engineering T cells to target malignancies that include acute myelogenous leukemia and pancreatic cancer. Dr. Sylvia Lee is leading the development of a therapy aimed at amplifying patients’ existing immune responses to advanced melanoma. Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, a blood stem cell transplantation specialist, is using gene therapy to improve treatment for glioblastomaHIV and genetic diseases such as Fanconi anemia.

Cell processing at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
The Cell Processing facility at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Robert Hood, Fred Hutch News Service
Left: Dr. Sylvia Lee speaks with a patient at the Fred Hutch clinic. Right: Dr. Phil Greenberg, who heads Fred Hutch’s Program in Immunology.
Left: Dr. Sylvia Lee speaks with a patient at the Fred Hutch clinic. Right: Dr. Phil Greenberg, who heads Fred Hutch’s Program in Immunology.

Photos by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Latest Cell & Gene Therapy News

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem awarded amfAR grant for research on HIV gene therapy Potential cure builds on unexpected findings about hematopoietic stem cells August 2, 2023
How blood cancer research might help organ transplant patients Fred Hutch study suggests certain immune cells are source of antibodies that attack donated organs February 16, 2023
Eight Fred Hutch teams win Evergreen Fund awards Research projects with commercial partnership potential receive grants of up to $200K December 13, 2022
Fred Hutch hosts inaugural Dr. E. Donnall Thomas Symposium Event draws leading researchers in transplantation, gene and cell therapy October 7, 2022