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Cancer center’s chief calls for virology centers

Thomas Lynch
Thomas Lynch, the president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, discusses the impact of the coronavirus outbreak during a GeekWire forum. (GeekWire Photo via Zoom / YouTube)

Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center already has dozens of scientists working on infectious diseases, including COVID-19 — but the center’s president and director, Thomas Lynch, says the research community is going to have to kick things up a notch to head off future pandemics.

His prescription? Create institutions like Fred Hutch that are devoted to virology.

“I feel strongly about this,” Lynch, a veteran medical doctor and researcher who took on the Hutch’s top post less than four months ago, said today during an online conversation presented via Zoom for GeekWire members. “I think virology needs a ‘cancer centers’ program, OK?”

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Seattle cancer centers get $500K to fight COVID-19

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and its clinical-care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, are receiving a $500,000 grant from Bank of America to promote COVID-19 testing efforts as well as measures to protect against the pandemic.

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Scientists crack the code of mystery DNA

Evolutionary DNA tree
It’s been 80 million years since our our evolutionary branch diverged from mice — so why do we share some fragments of DNA that are essentially unchanged? (Fred Hutch News Service Illustration / Kim Carney)

Why do some strings of genetic code remain virtually unchanged despite tens of millions of years of evolutionary divergence? A newly published study that takes advantage of the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR has found that at least some of those DNA strings are essential to keep healthy cells growing and block the growth of tumor cells.

The research, published today in Nature Genetics, is the “first study finding large-scale importance of these highly conserved elements,” senior author Rob Bradley of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said in a news release.

Bradley and his colleagues say unraveling the mysteries of those ultra-conserved elements could lead to new avenues for cancer treatment.

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T-cell films show promise as cancer-fighting therapy

T-cell film
A diagram shows how a thin film of patterned nitinol can be used to hold CAR T cells, with fibrin protein used as a binding agent. (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Graphic)

Researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have demonstrated the effectiveness of a new method for getting immune cells to fight solid tumors — by spreading them like jam onto ultra-thin sheets of metal mesh, and then laying the mesh onto the tumors.

So far, the technique for delivering genetically engineered T cells has been used only on mice — but the preclinical study published today in Nature Biomedical Engineering could help set the stage for the mesh to be used on humans as well.

“Cell therapies to fight cancer have had great success in blood cancers, but haven’t worked well with solid tumors,” senior study author Matthias Stephan, a faculty member in the Fred Hutch Clinical Research Division, explained in a news release.

“Our findings take a significant step toward making cell therapies effective against solid tumors by showing that a thin metal mesh loaded with T cells engineered to fight ovarian cancer cleared tumors in 70% of the treated mice,” he said.

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Paul Allen set aside funds to fight his disease

Matthias Stephan
Matthias Stephan, who studies lymphoma at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is among 10 newly named Allen Distinguished Investigators. (Fred Hutch News Service Photo / Robert Hood)

It’s notable that the newest class of Allen Distinguished Investigators, announced today by the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, includes researchers who are developing new treatments for lymphoma. Lymphoma is the type of blood cancer that led to the death of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the namesake and funder of the research program.

The decision to focus on that disease — along with nuclear biophysics, neuroimmunology, brain cells and Alzheimer’s disease, and cellular development and aging — was made last year, long before the billionaire philanthropist was diagnosed with a recurrence of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nevertheless, the choice is in line with Allen’s willingness to tackle the toughest challenges in bioscience.

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Paul Allen says cancer is back, but voices optimism

Paul Allen
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen sits in on a GeekWire interview in 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Nine years after he underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a potentially fatal but treatable form of cancer, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen says the disease has returned.

On Twitter and in a blog post, the 65-year-old billionaire investor, philanthropist and self-described “Idea Man” says he and his physicians are optimistic about his chances. Allen intends to stay involved with his Vulcan Inc. holding company and the research institutes that he’s founded, as well as the sports teams that he owns, the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers.

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Scientists pull out protein data from single cells

NanoPOTS protein analysis
Ying Zhu, a chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, places a chip containing samples for analysis into the automated NanoPOTS system. (PNNL Photo / Andrea Starr)

Scientists have developed a technique that can analyze fluid from a single human cell to identify its proteins — which could open the way for tracking the progression of cancer one cell at a time.

The method is known as NanoPOTS, or “nanodroplet processing in one pot for trace samples.” It was developed by scientists at the the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and detailed in a study published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie.

“NanoPOTS is like a molecular microscope that allows us to analyze samples that are 500 times smaller than we could see before,” PNNL analytical chemist Ryan Kelly, the study’s senior author, said in a news release. “We can identify more proteins in one cell than could previously be identified from a group of hundreds of cells.”

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Grail raises $300 million for cancer detection tools

Grail, a biotech company with early backing from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, says it’s raised $300 million in an oversubscribed Series C financing round. Gates and Bezos got in on a $100 million Series A round in 2016, and since then, total investment has risen to $1.5 billion.

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Positive results for ‘tumor-agnostic’ cancer drug

Ted Laetsch
UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Ted Laetsch is the lead author of a study focusing on how a drug called larotrectinib can be used to treat pediatric cancer patients. (UT Southwestern Photo)

Two clinical studies have provided evidence suggesting that an experimental precision-medicine drug called larotrectinib can fight soft-tissue tumors regardless of the patient’s age or the type of tumor.

Seattle Children’s Hospital participated in both studies.

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Fusion venture branches out into cancer therapy

Cancer therapy
An artist’s conception shows how a beam of neutrons could be directed at a tumor in a patient’s head, shown in a cutaway view. (TAE Life Sciences Illustration)

TAE Technologies, the California-based fusion energy company backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has spawned a spinoff focusing on a novel type of cancer therapy.

The spinoff, TAE Life Sciences, is a majority-owned subsidiary of TAE Technologies and will take advantage of the company’s accelerator-based beam technology.

In its quest to tame nuclear fusion, TAE Technologies has developed a high-intensity beam system that shoots energetic particles at clouds of plasma to boost stability and performance.

TAE Life Sciences aims to use similar beams for an application known as boron neutron capture therapy, or BNCT. The technique involves injecting a drug containing non-radioactive boron into a cancer patient’s tumor, and then shooting a neutron beam at the tumor.

The boron atoms absorb the neutrons, resulting in a localized radiation effect that kills the tumor cells while preserving non-cancerous tissue.

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