Research Highlights

Slideshow: Research Milestones in Fred Hutch History

Key Findings Have Saved Lives, Reduced Cancer's Burden

Dr. Julie Overbaugh

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has a long history of saving lives through high quality research. Our work—highlighted here—has touched millions of people. Dr. Julie Overbaugh (pictured) studies the mechanisms of viral pathogenesis.

Breaking Ground on Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1975

1975 - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Founded

Fred Hutch opened its doors in 1975, but its history began nearly 20 years earlier with the vision of Seattle surgeon Dr. William Hutchinson (pictured at center), brother of baseball hero Fred Hutchinson. Dr. Hutchinson dreamed of providing funds and laboratory space to physicians pursuing research, including Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who was developing a novel blood cancer therapy known as bone marrow transplantation. 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.

Fred Hutch 2011 Legacy of Life reunion

1976 - Long-Term Follow-Up Program Established for Transplant Patients

The Long-Term Follow-Up Program was launched in 1976 to provide life-long monitoring and care of patients following a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Hutchinson Center researchers work with a patient's personal doctor to collect data decades after treatment. This information allows Hutchinson Center researchers to learn about the long-term effects of transplant procedures and determine the best preventive care or treatment for current and future patients. The program continues today, and in 2011 the Center welcomed transplant patients in their fifth year of survival or later to the program's fifth Legacy of Life reunion (pictured).

Fred Hutch Cancer Prevention Program

1983 - Cancer Prevention Research Program Launched

Fred Hutch houses the nation's oldest and largest program devoted to understanding the causes of cancer and how to prevent it. With the founding of the Cancer Prevention Research Program in 1983, our researchers have gone on to delve into the links between cancers and numerous possible triggers, ranging from genetic and biological factors to diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices.

Graft vs. Host Disease examination

1986 - 'Gold Standard' for Graft vs. Host Disease Developed

Work by our clinical researchers in 1986 resulted in today's "gold standard" treatment for graft vs. host disease (GVHD)—a complication that occurs in some patients who have received transplants using donor cells. In GVHD, the transplanted cells recognize the patient's own cells as "foreign" and mount an attack against them, causing a range of symptoms and potentially serious damage to body organs. Building upon years of testing two drugs separately, our researchers found that a combination of two drugs—methotrexate and cyclosporine—provides effective GVHD protection. This groundbreaking work continues today. Pictured is a still from a video on how physicians can assess GVHD.

Nobel Prize recipient Dr. E Donnall Thomas

1990 - Nobel Prize for Bone Marrow Transplantation

Fred Hutch researchers played a pivotal role in developing bone marrow transplantation, a procedure that has been conducted more than one million times worldwide and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Led by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas (1920-2012) (pictured), Fred Hutch researchers transformed bone marrow transplantation into an established treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers. This work earned Thomas the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, and the procedure now ranks among the greatest success stories in cancer treatment.

Two scientists working under lab hood

1992 - Monoclonal Antibodies Discovered for Targeted Treatment

Our investigators in 1992 became the first to show that laboratory-produced molecules known as monoclonal antibodies can deliver radiation to leukemia- and lymphoma-related tumors. This breakthrough, part of a broader class of treatments known as immunotherapy, has provided a direct attack on tumors, thus sparing healthy cells and minimizing harmful side effects of treatment. Discoveries by Center researchers were instrumental in the development of antibody-based treatments that have gone on to become widely used anticancer drugs, including Rituxan™ for non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and Bexxar™ for follicular lymphomas.

Dr. Rainer Storb

1998 - 'Mini' Version Makes Transplants Safer, More Available

The rigors of traditional bone-marrow or stem-cell transplants can pose problems for older blood-cancer patients or younger patients with medical troubles. In hopes of extending the potential benefits of this treatment to a broader population, our researchers, led by Dr. Rainer Storb, began clinical trials in 1998 to test a lower-intensity approach. Unlike conventional transplants, this treatment—called the non-myeloablative stem-cell transplant or "mini" transplant—does not wipe out the patient's bone marrow and involves minimal doses of radiation, thereby reducing toxic side effects. By 2001 our researchers had concluded that this radically different transplantation method is, in fact, a viable treatment option for certain patients.

Dr. Lee Hartwell

2001 - Nobel Prize for Discovering 'Checkpoint' Genes in Cell Division

In 2001 Dr. Lee Hartwell received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for using brewer's yeast to uncover the genetic mechanisms of cell division. By identifying "checkpoint" genes that determine whether a cell is dividing normally, the former director and president emeritus of Fred Hutch provided important clues to cancer, which arises from abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth. Hartwell's discoveries have led him and other scientists to explore ways to stop abnormal cells from dividing. This work will lead to new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Illuminated cells under a microscope

2003 - Genetic Mechanisms of Cell Division (Aging)

For us humans, growing older is the greatest cancer risk factor. A landmark 2003 study by the Center's Dr. Daniel Gottschling and colleagues may help to explain why. Using yeast as a model organism, our researchers discovered that when yeast cells hit the equivalent of late-middle age, they experience a surge in genetic instability. These findings suggested this simple, single-celled organism may be an ideal model for understanding the complexities of age-related cancer development in humans.

Photo by Masur

Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Linda Buck

2004 - Nobel Prize for Profiling the Olfactory System

In 2004 Dr. Linda Buck received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her groundbreaking work on odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system — the network responsible for our sense of smell. The work is the first to define one of our sensory systems in the most detailed manner possible by defining the genes and proteins that control this remarkably complex response. 

Dr. Karen Syrjala

2006 - Survivorship Program Established for Transplant Patients

The Hutchinson Center’s research into cancer survival has helped thousands of patients enjoy a high quality of life well after their treatments have ended. Our Survivorship Program, launched in 2006, researches a range of topics, from the long-term effects of cancer treatment on the cardiovascular system to examining the factors that contribute to emotional health. Research is led by Dr. Scott Baker and Dr. Karen Syrjala (pictured). In addition to research, our Survivorship Program also offers a variety of resources for active living, healthy eating and social engagement.

Dr. Jim Olson

2007 - 'Tumor Paint' for Brain Cancer Surgery Developed

Researchers at the Hutchinson Center and Seattle Children's found in a 2007 study that a scorpion-derived molecule can help illuminate cancer cells in brain tissue, giving surgeons a better chance of removing harmful tumors without injuring surrounding healthy tissue. The Center's Dr. Jim Olson developed the "tumor paint"—a fluorescent molecular beacon known as Chlorotoxin:Cy5.5. This innovation is important because surgery is a primary cancer therapy, yet, despite other advances in surgical tools, distinguishing where tumors end and healthy tissue begins has remained a challenge.

Dr. Stanley Riddell

2008 - Immunotherapy's Promise Established in Landmark Treatment

Our researchers, including Dr. Stanley Riddell (pictured), have earned worldwide renown for developing successful treatments that harness the immune system to fight cancer, much as it naturally eliminates everyday infections like the common cold. This revolutionary field, called immunotherapy, has been found to yield effective cancer therapies with far fewer side effects than conventional drugs, radiation or surgery. In the early 1990s our researchers became the first to show that rare disease-fighting cells, known as T cells, can be isolated, multiplied in large quantities, and infused back into patients to treat viral diseases. A major breakthrough occurred in 2008 when the Center reported the first known successful use of a melanoma patient's own cloned T cells as the sole therapy to put his advanced solid-tumor cancer into long-term remission.

Dr. Sunil Hingorani

2012 - Breaking the Pancreatic Tumor Treatment Barrier

Pancreatic cancer is a particularly deadly because it is typically detected at a late stage and is especially resistant to chemotherapy. Dr. Sunil Hingorani, a recognized leader in pancreatic cancer research, identified a method of using a key enzyme to break through the barrier that pancreatic tumors form, allowing for the delivery of chemotherapy. The discovery was based on a mouse model for studying pancreatic cancer—a research tool that Dr. Hingorani himself developed. The treatment is currently in clinical trials.

Dr. Colleen Delaney

Today - Pursuing New, Lifesaving Breakthroughs

  • Cord blood - A special technique, developed by Dr. Colleen Delaney (pictured), for expanding the number of cord blood cells could offer new hope to leukemia and other cancer patients who require a transplantation.
  • Optides - Protein molecules that are engineered to target cancer cells are a promising new field in cancer treatment research known as optides. Fred Hutch is applying its expertise in basic sciences, clinical research and more to develop this new generation of cures.  
  • Infectious disease and cancer - Our scientists are studying the link between infectious disease and cancer. Our UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance partnership is providing advanced research, improved clinical care and training in Uganda where rates of infection-related cancer are high.
  • Health economics - We are launching a new research institute dedicated to health economics, patient outcome evaluation.

Learn more about our breakthrough discoveries.


Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.