What Your Dollars Support
The Gregory Fund® for early cancer detection research
At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, everything we do, we do to save lives. As you know, one of the best ways to save lives is to catch cancer early when treatments are more likely to be effective. To that end, our world-class researchers are pioneering strategies and tools to detect the signatures of disease earlier and more easily.
This year, through the collective generosity of Hutch Award Luncheon attendees, gross proceeds of more than $485,000 were raised — a new record for the event. That stunning show of support, which directly benefits our early cancer detection research through The Gregory Fund, is already fueling a range of potentially lifesaving scientific advances. We’ve highlighted just a few of those advances in this report. Together, these projects showcase the broad array of approaches Fred Hutch researchers are taking to advance early detection — and ultimately save lives.
Dr. Elahe Mostaghel
Hormones as MCL’s early signal and potential weakness
Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) is a rare but often deadly disease that inexplicably affects five times as many men
as women. Drs. Elahe Mostaghel and Ajay Gopal may have found a reason for this mysterious gender disparity that may also lead to improvements in the early detection of this cancer.
When Drs. Mostaghel and Gopal treated a man suffering from both prostate cancer and MCL with a prostate cancer therapy that blocks androgen, a male hormone prostate cancer cells need to survive, the patient’s MCL also went into remission. The researchers decided to test whether blocking androgen might be a treatment avenue for more MCL patients. They found that MCL cells in the lab contain high levels of androgen receptors, a protein the cells need to respond to the hormone, and that three out of four different MCL cell types stopped dividing in the presence of an androgen receptor-blocking drug.
These promising early results, made possible by The Gregory Fund, have enabled the team to apply for a Lymphoma Research Foundation grant to extend their study. In addition to exploring androgen blocking as a possible MCL therapy, Drs. Mostaghel and Gopal hypothesize that presence of the androgen receptor could signal the first stages of the disease, providing the basis for a valuable new early detection strategy.
Dr. Carla Grandori
New technique to improve pancreatic cancer detection
Pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly because it is almost never detected early and very few effective drugs exist to treat it. Fred Hutch’s Drs. Christopher Kemp and Carla Grandori aim to change this situation. They are applying their own novel technique, which rapidly sifts through thousands of genes in cancer cells in just a few weeks, to pinpoint those few genes that could either signal pancreatic cancer early or serve as new drug targets for the disease.
They have already used their approach to find a gene that, when shut off, halted the growth of cells from head and neck cancer, and to identify a molecule that blocks that gene’s function. Now, with the help of your support, Drs. Kemp and Grandori have compiled a list of several hundred genes that affect the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in the lab. Their next step is to pick 30 to 40 high priority genes from this list and evaluate each one’s potential as a target for existing cancer drugs and as the basis for new early detection tests.
Based on the success of this Gregory Fund project and related work by Drs. Grandori and Kemp, the researchers recently obtained a $5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to scale up this approach. Along with its power to identify new drug targets, their method holds great promise for finding new diagnostic markers that could improve early detection of a wide range of cancers.
Novel biomarkers for colorectal cancer
While colonoscopies have the potential to save many lives from colorectal cancer by detecting precancerous polyps or early stage cancer, their use is limited by their invasive and inconvenient nature and their cost. A blood test for markers of early colorectal cancer or its precursors could reach more people for screening, and ultimately save many more lives than colonoscopies alone.
Fred Hutch’s Drs. Polly Newcomb and Scott Adams are looking for such markers among a pool of 15 candidate microRNAs — tiny molecules that play diverse roles in both normal and cancerous cells. With the help of your support, they have already begun extracting and measuring these candidate microRNAs from blood samples provided by 173 volunteer study participants.
Once Dr. Newcomb and her colleagues identify specific microRNAs with the potential to predict colorectal cancer early, those molecules will be tested in larger-scale studies. Ultimately, the scientists hope that such a blood test could precede colonoscopy, thus bringing colorectal cancer screening to many more people and reducing the number of unnecessary invasive colonoscopies and biopsies performed on healthy individuals.
All of us at Fred Hutch thank you for your support of our early cancer detection research. Through The Gregory Fund, we are accelerating research with the potential to save countless lives by catching cancer early, when treatment is most effective.