Up to 20 percent of cancers worldwide are caused, either directly or indirectly, by viruses and other pathogens. Our researchers hope to answer key questions about these infectious diseases, incuding: How are cancer-causing infections transmitted and acquired? What factors govern the progression from chronic infection to cancer? And what therapies can help prevent infection-related cancers?
Many infections that are not normally life-threatening can have devastating effects on those with compromised immune systems. Cancer patients who are undergoing immunosuppressive therapy or who are recovering from a stem cell or bone marrow transplant are especially at risk from these opportunistic infections. Respiratory infections caused by the influenza virus, fungal infections and even the common cold can substantially reduce chances of survival. Our researchers are investigating how to prevent, diagnose and treat these diseases, as well as the role of immune cells in controlling them. Much of this research happens within our Infectious Disease Sciences Program. In one recent example, Dr. Michael Boeckh and his team helped conduct pivotal studies that led to the approval of a new drug for cytomegalovirus, a ubiquitous human herpesvirus that is the leading infectious killer of transplant patients.
Our researchers also investigate ways to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, especially among immunocompromised patients. Our Antimicrobial Stewardship Program aims to prevent the emergence and spread of these pathogens among cancer patients and transplant recipients, improve diagnosis and management of infectious diseases in these patients and develop guidelines for antibiotic selection and dosing.
With expertise ranging from fundamental laboratory research in virology to globe-spanning clinical trials of new vaccines to prevent HIV, Fred Hutch scientists are having an impact throughout the world. One example of our pathbreaking work is our discovery of a human antibody that in laboratory tests blocks infection by the Epstein-Barr virus. Best known in the United States as a cause of mononucleosis, the virus is also responsible for about 200,000 cases of cancer worldwide — including Burkitt lymphoma, the most common childhood cancer in sub-Saharan Africa.