Without basic science, there’s no breakthrough science: A Fred Hutch researcher worries about federal funding cuts
Editor’s note: Most of the talk about NIH funding cuts has focused on how they affect clinical research on innovative new treatments. But the sequester could also have a big impact on the basic scientific research that’s the foundation beneath clinical work. Science writer Justin Matlick caught up with Dr. Jonathan Cooper, director of Fred Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, to learn more about what the current funding climate means for this key area.
Why is basic scientific research important? Read more…
By Justin Matlick, Hutchinson Center science writer
Dr. Barry Stoddard is developing tools that could revolutionize treatment for cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia and Parkinson’s disease. He’s a leader in his field and has a 20-year track record of success. But the current National Institutes of Health funding climate, compounded by sequestration, is so bad that one of his key projects is in jeopardy and Stoddard thinks there’s a 50-50 chance he’ll be forced to give up his academic research at the end of next year.
“If I can’t find funding, I’ll go find a new career,” he says. Read more…
Editor’s note: Colleen Steelquist, one of our writers and the science editor for our Communications team at Fred Hutch, has written extensively about her sister-in-law, Jenny, and her fight against myeloma. Jenny, who was in the care of Fred Hutch researchers at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, our treatment arm, died on April 2nd. Here, we share a heartfelt reflection about her care at Fred Hutch and SCCA written by Jenny’s husband, Bob, first published in their CaringBridge blog. Bob allowed us to republish his words on our site.
A Seattle Visit
Many times I’ve driven past the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance campus and wondered how I would react to seeing those bright brick buildings after Jenny had died. Would I be overcome with grief? Frustration? Anger? Would I have to look away? Read more…
By Colleen Steelquist, Hutchinson Center Science Editor
Dr. Kathi Malone, a Fred Hutch epidemiologist, has spent her career studying what causes breast cancer and predicting the impact of those factors—including genetic history. In the wake of Angelina Jolie’s decision to have her breasts surgically removed to diminish her 87 percent risk of breast cancer due to her BRCA1 gene mutation, Malone shares her expertise in genetic determinants of breast cancer: Read more…
By Colleen Steelquist, Hutchinson Center Science Editor
Angelina Jolie’s disclosure in today’s New York Times of her recent preventive double mastectomy made headlines around the world. Her celebrity spotlight illuminates the decisions faced by many women who share a similar family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Jolie learned she carried a mutation in BRCA1, which along with BRCA2, are genes that act as tumor suppressors. For most people who develop cancer, cancer-causing gene mutations happen over the course of a lifetime, leading to cancer later in life. But some people are born with a gene mutation inherited from their mother or father. The risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased in women like Jolie (and men) who inherit these mutations.
We all, of course, want to reduce our risk of getting cancer. But it’s important to remember that genetic testing isn’t recommended for everyone—only about 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. It’s better to start by evaluating your risk with your doctor than rushing for genetic testing.
According to population research led by Fred Hutch’s Dr. Kathi Malone, among breast cancer cases with a family history of ovarian cancer, 14 percent were found to carry a BRCA1 mutation. Among those who had a family history of both breast and ovarian cancer, 27 percent carried the mutation.
Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Julie Gralow, who directs the Breast Medical Oncology program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, said testing should be considered in families that have faced multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer, young ages at diagnosis (40 or younger), male breast cancer incidence, and multiple cancers in the same family member.
And it’s optimal to test the family member who has cancer, Gralow said. “Otherwise, a negative result could mean either no gene mutation in the family or a family with a gene mutation that the tested person didn’t inherit,” she said.
For a BRCA1 or BRCA2 carrier, removing the ovaries is definitely recommended after childbearing and by age 40. “We don’t find ovarian cancer early or treat it well,” Gralow explained.
However, for women with either mutation, a double mastectomy is an option, but it’s not a solid recommendation, according to Gralow. “Mastectomy reduces risk for developing breast cancer, but because we would follow such a patient closely, we’d likely find a cancer early and it wouldn’t impact her survival,” she said.
Genetic tests are available to check for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and genetic counseling is recommended before and after these tests through a clinic like SCCA’s Breast and Ovarian Cancer Prevention Program.
For the vast majority of people who face breast cancer, their risk stems from being female and getting older. Second to those, an individual’s reproductive history—childbearing, breastfeeding, age of first menstruation and menopause, use of hormone replacement therapy—plays a role.
The good news: Many Fred Hutch research studies show factors we can control, like our weight, activity levels and alcohol consumption, also impact our risk.
And as Gralow is quick to point out, even if there is controversy about the age to start them and how often to get them, mammograms save lives.
Read more about how to reduce your risk of breast cancer on our website.
A vaccine that prevents cervical cancer becomes more widely available to millions of women around the world
By Ignacio Lobos, Fred Hutch Editor of External Communications
When a major global vaccine alliance announced today that it had struck an agreement with two pharmaceutical companies to drastically reduce the price of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines in poor countries, there was plenty to celebrate at Fred Hutch. Read more…
Dr. Jim Olson recently received two emails—within five minutes of each other—announcing that two of his grants would receive less than half the federal funding that he was originally promised. It was an ominous sign of how new government spending cuts—called sequestration—could jeopardize the next generation of lifesaving breakthroughs.
“My team made a discovery that improved outcomes for kids with brain tumors from 55 percent to 70 percent,” he said. “Without federal funding, research like this may never see the light of day.” Read more…