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Meet Peru's HIV superhero

By finding a better way to prevent HIV, Dr. Jorge Sanchez aims to help end his country’s AIDS epidemic

Jan. 22, 2018 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Asociación Civil Impacta Salud y Educación co-founder and researcher Dr. Jorge Sanchez

Dr. Jorge Sanchez, co-founder of Lima's Asociación Civil Impacta Salud y Educación, stopped by a party to thank participants in an HIV prevention study. The party featured dancers dressed as superheroes, who help raise awareness of Impacta's work. A longtime leader in Peru's battle against AIDS, Sanchez's superpower is research.

Photo by Katie Jennings / New Canoe Media

The superhero named Vacuman arrived at La Cueva, a strobe-lit, subterranean gay disco in Lima, Peru, at midnight. Dressed in a white body leotard with a plunging neckline to show off his pecs, he danced his way to the stage accompanied by the Impacta Universe Boys, an entourage of buff young men in briefs and go-go boots.

It was quite the entrance, which was the point.

Vacuman is the creation of the Asociación Civil Impacta Salud y Educación, an HIV clinical research site in Lima and part of the global HIV Vaccine Trials Network based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Played by an easy-on-the-eyes model, his job is to draw attention to the need for a vaccine against HIV/AIDS. And those disco patrons can help scientists develop one.

Impacta community educators and clinical trial recruiters accompanied the superhero on his monthly tour of Lima discos, bringing buckets of condoms to communities hit hardest by HIV along with information about a possible new path to a long-sought preventive vaccine.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Jan. 18, 2018

Drs. Laura Pisarsky, Arko Dasgupta and David Dai

Drs. Laura Pisarsky, Arko Dasgupta and David Dai are postdocs in the Laboratory for the Study of Metastatic Microenvironments under the mentorship of Dr. Cyrus Ghajar; their work focuses on the mechanisms of why breast cancer spreads.

Fred Hutch file photos

Fred Hutch metastatic breast cancer researchers receive postdoctoral fellowships

Three young international investigators working in metastatic breast cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center recently received postdoctoral fellowships totaling nearly $500,000.

The researchers, Drs. David (Jinxiang) Dai of China, Arko Dasgupta of India and Laura Pisarsky of France all work in the Laboratory for the Study of Metastatic Microenvironments under translational researcher Dr. Cyrus Ghajar.

Their work there focuses on disseminated tumor cells, or DTCs, which migrate from primary tumors early on in order to take up residence in the microenvironment of organs such as the lungs, liver and bones. There, the cancer cells may remain dormant throughout the course of a patient’s life — even during chemotherapy for early stage disease — or they may “wake up” and begin to create new metastatic tumors, or “mets,” ending the cancer’s remission and eventually, the patient’s life. 

“These awards are a testament to how hard all three of these fellows have worked since coming to the Hutch; how much progress they’ve been able to make on their projects and how creatively they’ve approached them,” said Ghajar of the researchers. “It also shows how the field is starting to recognize how important tumor dormancy is. We need new strategies to target metastasis and we’ll do that by developing an understanding about dormant disseminated tumor cells.”

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MERS remains primarily a camel virus — for now

Fred Hutch researchers use genetic sequence data to show virus reaches ‘dead end’ in humans

Jan. 16, 2018 | Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of a camel

MERS — Middle East respiratory syndrome — virus has been found in dromedary camels in several countries, including Egypt, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Photo by Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

A new analysis of genetic history confirms the long-held suspicion that Middle East respiratory syndrome virus, which alarmed global health leaders in 2012 when it spilled over from camels to cause an often fatal illness in people, does not spread easily between humans.

At least not yet.

In a paper published today in the journal eLife, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Drs. Gytis Dudas and Trevor Bedford modeled phylogenetic trees, or genetic histories, of all available MERS genome sequences — 100 from camels and 174 from humans.

“The genomic data confirms that the MERS virus is not at the moment spreading readily from person to person,” said Bedford, an evolutionary biologist and the paper’s senior author. “Almost all of the cases in the Arabian Peninsula are short chains that spill over from camels, infect a few people and then die out. That had been suspected, but not quantified.”

The new analysis compared evolutionary changes in the camel and human genetic sequences to show that the virus jumped from camels to humans hundreds of times since 2012, with the 2,000-plus human cases recorded since resulting mostly from repeated spillovers rather than person-to-person spread.

“Andrew [co-author Andrew Rambaut, a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology] had championed this idea for some time, and it had been accepted by most that it was not one introduction from camels into humans back in 2012,” Bedford said. “Our analysis placed it at somewhere between 300 and 800 introductions with each introduction being responsible for an average of three or four cases.”

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How the immune system’s key organ regenerates itself

Watch: Hutch researcher discusses harnessing the thymus’s knack for self-repair to boost immune function and help patients

Jan. 12, 2018 | By Susan Keown (text) and Robert Hood (video) / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Jarrod Dudakov discusses his research on how the thymus regenerates, and why it's important.
Video by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

With advances in cancer immunotherapy splashing across headlines, the immune system’s powerful cancer assassins — T cells — have become dinner-table conversation. But hiding in plain sight behind that “T” is the organ from which they get their name and learn their craft: the thymus.

A new study published Friday in Science Immunology identifies a molecule called BMP4 that plays a key role in the thymus’s extraordinary natural ability to recover from damage.

In this video, Dr. Jarrod Dudakov of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one of the study’s leaders, talks about the importance of the thymus, the discoveries he and his colleagues have made about how it regenerates, and the team’s next steps. The researchers hope to translate their work into new therapies to improve the function of the immune system in old age and make immunotherapies more effective.

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Science to watch in 2018: From immunotherapy to gene therapy, big data to new tech

Fred Hutch experts lend their predictions for the coming year’s advances

Jan. 12, 2018 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Animated illustration of a fortune tellers' crystal ball with science topics highlighted

Fred Hutch researchers lent their predictions for science to watch in 2018.

Illustration by Kim Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

2017 was a banner year for cancer and other medical research in the U.S. Two different types of engineered cell therapies were approved to treat cancer. The first gene editing experiment in a human body was performed. And initiatives kicked off to help scientists share and harness massive amounts of data to accelerate discovery.

As 2018 kicks off, we asked experts at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center what advances to watch for in the coming year.

The scientists aren’t psychic, they warned us. But they’ve got their ears to the ground in their respective fields and can see trends on the horizon.

Cancer immunotherapy, precision oncology and gene therapies will continue to see rapid advances on the clinical and research fronts, driven by leaps in new technology and big data.

Other topics we’ll be keeping tabs on? The rising costs of health care in the face of health insurance fluctuations, promising infectious disease research, and new ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and lower cancer risk.

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Remembering Dr. Eddie Méndez

Hutch friends and colleagues recall brilliant physician-scientist and ‘bright, shining star’

Jan. 11, 2018 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Eddie Mendez

Dr. Eddie Mendez dedicated his career to improving treatment for head-and-neck cancer patients.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Chris Kemp still remembers vividly the cold, dark December morning six years ago when he, Dr. Eduardo Méndez and their collaborators received the call from the National Cancer Institute, informing them that their grant had been funded. The team had proposed to combine high-throughput functional screening and genomic analysis to improve cancer drug discovery.

“I was pessimistic. … Eddie was hugely optimistic. He said, ‘We’re in the house!’ The next five years were magical, research-wise,” recalled Kemp, who studies tumor formation and precision oncology approaches at Fred Hutch.

From this grant and collaboration sprung a new drug target for patients with difficult-to-treat head-and-neck cancer, and a clinical trial testing a drug that made some patients’ inoperable tumors melt away.

Méndez, who passed away Friday from cancer, surrounded by his close-knit family, left a lifesaving legacy that will carry on through his patients, his colleagues and his visionary cancer research. He was 45.

He specialized in treating head-and-neck cancer, an often disfiguring and debilitating disease. It was his mission to save lives and spare patients as many negative effects as possible, whether through spearheading minimally invasive robotic surgery for these tumors (he was the first in Washington state to perform such surgery), or through tirelessly seeking new and improved treatments in his laboratory at Fred Hutch.

“There are hundreds of cancer patients that I know of who are alive today because of Eddie. They received the gift of life from him,” Seattle Cancer Care Alliance colleague and radiation oncologist Dr. Upendra Parvathaneni wrote in an email. “I’ll always cherish the time we were blessed to spend together. During his brief life span Eddie achieved what most would struggle to do in many lifetimes.”

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