Immunotherapy: Advances in Merkel cell carcinoma

Immune booster may awaken body’s defenses against skin cancer

Fred Hutch physician-scientist Dr. Shailender Bhatia is leading the way for a new immunotherapy for Merkel cell carcinoma, a relatively rare skin cancer that is often associated with a common virus. In a pilot study recently published in Clinical Cancer Research, Bhatia and his team reported that injecting a synthetic molecule (G100) that revs up the immune system led to shrinking tumors in five out of ten patients, including one complete response. Immunotherapy has thought to be a promising method of attack against Merkel cell carcinoma, because the cancer is linked to a common virus. That means that the immune system could recognize, and potentially attack, the virus proteins that are produced by the tumor cells.

Media contact: Molly McElroy, [email protected], 206.667.6651


Immunotherapy: Where is the field going?

5 questions with a cancer immunotherapy expert

Fred Hutch’s Dr. Phil Greenberg is a world class expert in immunotherapy and has recently received the highest honor by the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, the 2018 Richard V. Smalley M.D., Memorial Award and Lecture. When we recently asked him about what’s new in immunotherapy he talked about how the field is in its infancy and how he and his colleagues are working to make the therapy effective against blood cancers while expanding its effectiveness against more types of cancers, including lung, ovarian and pancreatic. He also spoke generally of how to use synthetic biology to engineer the immune system to better fight tumor cells.

Media contact: Molly McElroy, [email protected], 206.667.6651


Infectious Disease: Understanding persistent HIV infection

Persistent HIV infection works a lot like cancer, study shows

There is great debate about why HIV persists in patients who otherwise suppress the virus through lifelong treatment with antiviral drugs. In a recent study published in Nature Communications, Fred Hutch researchers show that the majority of the HIV-infected cells that persist in HIV-infected individuals even during suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART), were generated via proliferation rather than viral replication. Based on these results, researchers believe reducing cellular proliferation could help to deplete the reservoir and potentially lead to a functional cure.

Media contact: Claire Hudson, [email protected], 206.667.7365


Infectious Disease: A cure for cancer – and HIV?

Study aims to cure blood cancers with transplants that could block HIV, too

With a recent $1 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Fred Hutch researchers will lead a clinical trial offering cord blood transplants to 10 HIV-positive cancer patients over the next three years. The researchers will find units of cord blood that carry a natural mutation that blocks HIV from infecting immune cells – potentially suppressing HIV without a need for antiviral drugs.

Media contact: Molly McElroy, [email protected], 206.667.6651


Cancer prevention: How much should we be exercising?

Move more and sit less for cancer prevention and survival: new HHS guidelines

There are preventative steps people can take to reduce their cancer risk. Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Anne McTiernan recently served on the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee to help develop the new HHS Physical Activity Guidelines in order to help people actually implement these healthy habits into their daily lives. McTiernan is currently researching the immediate effects of exercise on biomarkers of breast cancer risk to determine whether the benefits of exercise are the same for overweight or obese women as they are for normal-weight participants.

Media contact: Tom Kim, [email protected], 206.667.6240


Cancer prevention: What’s the best way to increase colorectal cancer screening rates?

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives but is still underutilized. Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Rachel Issaka led a systematic review, published in Preventive Medicine, to better understand which interventions were most successful in increasing use of fecal immunochemical tests (FIT). FIT is a lower-cost, less invasive alternative to colonoscopy for people of average risk without family history or symptoms. Issaka and the team found that a combination of different interventions—patient reminders, tailored messages, pairing FIT with flu vaccination, use of high-quality media and even offering financial incentives—could increase screening levels enough to close the gap between current screening rates and the target rate of 80 percent.

Media contact: Claire Hudson, [email protected], 206.667.7365


Tech convergence: How Hutch and Amazon are accelerating research together

Historically, identifying potential clinical trials participants requires a significant time and labor-intensive effort to abstract unstructured data. Fred Hutch worked with Amazon to test and train a new service that automates the abstraction process, saving researchers valuable time.

Media contact: Tom Kim, [email protected], 206.667.6240


Highlights from ASH: CAR T-cell therapy, gene therapy, and stem cell transplantation

The American Society of Hematology annual meeting just wrapped up in San Diego. At the premier hematology event, Fred Hutch researchers presented their latest findings on cancer immunotherapies, CRISPR for blood disorders and other insights the immune system and cancer. The late-breaking session of ASH included results of a multicenter study showing that doctors may want to add prophylactic anti-clotting therapy for certain cancer patients to reduce the risk of blood clot formation – Fred Hutch’s Dr. Gary H. Lyman was senior author of the paper. For more information, see ASH highlights.


November Recognitions

Researchers at Fred Hutch are often recognized for their work. We are proud to celebrate their achievements and grateful to the awarding organizations.

Dr. Cameron Howard Lee named 2019 Helen Hay Whitney Fellow

Dr. Sita Kugel named 2018 V Scholar

Forbes ’30 Under 30’ lists Hutch immunotherapy researcher Alex Salter

Dr. Kristin Anderson named winner of the SITC Presidential Award

Dr. Phil Greenberg received the 2018 Richard V. Smalley M.D., Memorial Award and Lecture

Breast Cancer Research Foundation funds 8 Fred Hutch/ UW Cancer Consortium scientists

Dr. Matthias Stephan named Allen Distinguished Investigator  

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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.