Although the Hutchinson Center opened its doors in 1975, its history began nearly 20 years earlier with the vision of Seattle surgeon Dr. William Hutchinson, brother of baseball hero Fred Hutchinson. Hutchinson dreamed of building an organization that would provide funds and laboratory space to physicians pursuing research. In 1956, he founded the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation to study heart surgery, cancer and endocrine diseases.
By 1962, Hutchinson envisioned another dream: a center devoted to studying cancer, the disease that would later take the life of his brother Fred in 1964. With critical help from Washington State’s legendary U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson and the Seattle community, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center opened its first home in Seattle's First Hill neighborhood in 1975.
The Hutchinson Center quickly became the permanent home to Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who had spent decades developing an innovative treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers. Thomas and his colleagues were working to cure cancer by transplanting human bone marrow after lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation. At the Hutchinson Center, Thomas improved this treatment and readied it for widespread use. The first successful bone marrow transplant was conducted here in 1980, and the procedure has saved hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide.
Thomas received the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his pioneering research, establishing a legacy of innovation and excellence that all Center researchers strive to follow.
Exploring New Frontiers from Cancer to HIV
While improving bone marrow transplantation remains central to the Center's research, it is now only part of our efforts. The Hutchinson Center is home to five scientific divisions, three Nobel laureates and more than 2,700 faculty and staff members who are working to eliminate cancer, HIV and other related diseases.
In 1982, the Center established the Cancer Prevention Program, which has made key contributions to understanding how diet, exercise and other factors influence the likelihood of acquiring the disease. Today it is the oldest and largest such program in the nation.
Our researchers have continued to develop innovative treatments for leukemia and other blood cancers, and are making further progress toward the next generation of cancer therapies. The Hutchinson Center's Nobel prize-winning work on bone marrow transplantation provided the first example of the power of the human immune system to cure cancer. Later, Dr. Rainier Storb and colleagues developed a radically differently approach to bone marrow transplantation that offers hope for older or otherwise medically unfit blood-cancer patients whose bodies cannot withstand the rigors of a conventional transplant. This treatment, called the non-myeloblative stem cell transplants or "mini" transplant, does not wipe out bone marrow and involves minimal radiation. Studies have shown patients are as likely to survive after a reduced intensity transplant as after a more intense transplant.
Today, we are spearheading a revolutionary treatment, called immunotherapy, that yields effective cancer treatments with far fewer side effects than conventional drugs, radiation or surgery. In 2008, Dr. Cassian Yee demonstrated that he could use a patient's own infection-fighting T-cells to put advanced melanoma into long-term remission.
Our scientists are also leaders in using antibodies either alone or attached to radioactive molecules or chemotherapy to treat cancer. Antibody-based therapy uses small proteins to directly attack tumors or to allow therapeutic agents to be delivered to cancer cells, sparing health cells and thus minimizing harmful side effects.
Our work extends to infectious disease research, reflecting a growing understanding that eradicating certain infections can lower the world’s cancer burden. In 1988, investigators from our Basic Sciences Division began researching HIV. This laid the groundwork for national HIV vaccine trials, which the Center began conducting in collaboration with the University of Washington in 1994. Today, our Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division is home to one of the world’s largest HIV research units and is the hub of the international HIV Vaccine Trials Network, a global effort to develop and test a successful HIV vaccine.
To expedite our research, the Center joined forces with the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s to form Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) in 1998. One of the country’s most comprehensive adult and pediatric cancer-care organizations. SCCA opened a 150,000 square-foot outpatient clinic on the Hutchinson Center’s Seattle campus in 2001.
Pursuing the Next Wave of Breakthroughs
Center researchers are uniquely poised to contribute to the next wave of breakthrough treatments and prevention strategies. Their visionary approach ensures that the Center remains one of the world’s leading research organizations, coming ever closer to eliminating cancer and related diseases as causes of human suffering and death.