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Fred Hutchinson Launces Major Research Effort in Early Detection of Cancer

  [ 48 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • June 11, 2003

Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research, W.M. Keck Foundation and Donald Listwin donate $4.4 million to start program

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has launched a major new program to develop tests that could alert doctors to the earliest signs of cancer. Known as the Early Detection Initiative, the effort will benefit from $4.4 million in new funding from The Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research of Seattle, the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles and businessman Donald J. Listwin of Woodside, Calif.

The Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research is contributing $2 million toward the initiative, the W.M. Keck Foundation is contributing $1.4 million, and Donald Listwin is contributing $1 million. Additionally, the center will invest another $3.3 million to launch the program.

The goal of Fred Hutchinson's Early Detection Initiative, headed by its president and director, Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell, Ph.D., is the early identification of the onset and risk of a wide range of cancers and other diseases so they can be prevented or treated as soon as possible.

"The importance of this work is underscored by the fact that survival rates improve dramatically when cancers are diagnosed early, when the disease is still confined to the organ of origin," Hartwell said.

For example, if all colorectal-cancer cases were detected when localized, the overall five-year survival rates could improve from 64 percent to 90 percent. Early detection also is key to managing breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers. The five-year survival rate for breast- and prostate-cancer patients with localized, early stage disease is 85 percent to 95 percent and remains high at 10 years.

The $4.4 million in gifts will enable Fred Hutchinson to develop, test and implement methods for detecting proteins that signify the presence or risk of cancer in human blood samples. Researchers will use techniques made possible by the rapidly advancing field of proteomics, which attempts to catalog and describe the function of all of the proteins made by a cell or organism. Cancer cells may produce unique proteins, or proteins in different quantities, compared to normal cells.

It is expected that this five-year project will bring together the simultaneous application of biological, epidemiological and bioinformatics tools for early cancer detection. Bioinformatics relies on sophisticated software that enables scientists to analyze the large amounts of data generated from cataloging and comparing the genes and proteins of different individuals, thus enabling the identification of patterns of proteins that indicate disease in its early stages. Fred Hutchinson is working with several partners with specialized technical and bioinformatics expertise, including Microsoft and the Institute for Systems Biology.

The goal of the Early Detection Initiative is to demonstrate that blood-serum protein profiles can distinguish individuals with early stage cancer from those who are healthy. Fred Hutchinson's researchers already have experience in proteomics technologies and can identify and analyze molecular profiles from healthy individuals and from those with early stage cancer whose health histories and lifestyle factors are known.

Additionally, the center's researchers have access to one of the nation's largest repositories of serum samples from large groups of individuals whose medical history and behaviors already have been documented throughout an extended period of observation.

"Early detection provides one of the most promising opportunities to reduce the incidence of advanced cancer and cancer deaths," Hartwell said. "New and emerging data-rich technologies provide an opportunity for a broader understanding of disease susceptibility and early detection. This knowledge has the power to transform medical care from treatment of advanced disease to monitoring and managing early stage illness and susceptibility," he said.

Hartwell said that private donors, individuals and foundations play a crucial role in the most creative and innovative cancer research. "While this kind of work holds the greatest hope for major strides in understanding cancer, government support often is not available until we have generated pilot data demonstrating proof of concept," he said. "That's why we're so excited by these new gifts from private foundations and individuals."

The foundations and Listwin have each previously contributed at least $1 million to Fred Hutchinson. For more information about Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, visit

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of two Nobel Prize laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Fred Hutchinson receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent U.S. research center. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical partners, the University of Washington Academic Medical Center and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 39 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's Web site at

The Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research promotes innovative medical research in a variety of fields. The Foundation funds programs encompassing a broad range of disciplines including biochemistry, biomedical engineering, virology, immunology, cell and molecular biology, pharmacology and genetics. The Foundation is one of six Paul G. Allen Foundations in Seattle, which are focused on strengthening families and communities in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about the foundations online at

The W.M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations. Established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company, the Foundation's grant making is focused primarily on exemplary medical research, scientific, and engineering programs throughout the United States. The Foundation also maintains a program for liberal arts colleges and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of civic and community services, health care and hospitals, pre-collegiate education, and the arts.

Donald J. Listwin is president and CEO of Openwave Systems Inc., based in Redwood City, Calif. Previously, Listwin was an executive vice president of Cisco Systems. He also serves on the board of directors of Openwave, Redback Networks and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Listwin also helped launch NetAid, a non-profit organization that provides corporations, groups and individuals concrete ways to fight extreme poverty in developing countries, and now serves as its chair. In addition to his family foundation and NetAid, he is a member of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and the Strategic Implementation Committee at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

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