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May 1, 2015
Table of contents
UW professor recognized for his contributions to science and medical research
It was with great pleasure that I heard this week that Stanley Fields, UW professor of genome sciences and medicine and adjunct professor of microbiology, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Stan, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, develops biological assays to analyze the functions of proteins, often using yeast as a model for assays that can be applied to proteins from any organism. He is most widely known for inventing a technique, with his colleague Ok-Kyu Song, that has transformed biology. This molecular biology technique, the two-hybrid system, permits the study of protein interactions in the cell. Given one protein that a researcher is interested in, the method identifies other proteins that bind to it. With advanced sequencing and automated procedures, the approach now permits the analysis of protein interactions on a dramatically large scale. The method has application to diverse scientific fields, from neuroscience to cancer research.
Stan’s work continues to focus on developing technologies, in particular those that analyze protein function. This is a challenging area—determining protein function remains difficult due to the range of biochemical activities that proteins display, the many modifications a protein can undergo, and the multiple forms of a protein that a single gene can produce. Yet it is one of the most important quests in science—proteins, one of the major building blocks of life, are the center of significant ongoing studies at UW Medicine and elsewhere throughout the world.
Stan, who will be inducted in a ceremony Oct. 10 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a wonderfully curious and energetic scientist whose work has had substantial worldwide impact. In addition to his research, he is passionate about mentoring and supporting young researchers and engaging young people in scientific careers. We are very fortunate to have him on our faculty. Congratulations, Stan, for a well-deserved honor!
Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
In newly published research from UW Medicine, depression and type 2 diabetes were each associated with an increased risk for dementia. The risk was even greater among individuals diagnosed with both depression and diabetes, according to work led by UW School of Medicine researchers. The findings appeared April 15 in JAMA Psychiatry. Wayne Katon, a noted researcher on the associations between depression and chronic disease, was the lead author of the study, which was published posthumously. For more information, see the article in HealthDay.
A small study by University of Washington researchers found no sign that bone-marrow stem-cell injections stimulated repair in the damaged hearts of patients awaiting transplantation. The results were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Cardiology. April Stempien-Otero, UW associate professor of medicine, was the paper’s lead author. In recent years, a number of studies have suggested that injecting damaged hearts with stem cells from bone marrow may help the heart muscle heal and improve its function. In animal studies, such injections have stimulated new blood-vessel formation, reduced scarring and strengthened heart contractions. Subsequent small studies in humans have, in some cases, indicated improved function in patients' hearts. For more information, see the article in HS NewsBeat.
Brent Wood, UW professor of laboratory medicine and pathology, presented the first of the plenary scientific session abstracts at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in December. Wood led a study evaluating the outcome of pediatric patients with T-lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) enrolled in the largest trial of this disease conducted to date. The study documents the overall excellent outcome modern chemotherapy can provide and demonstrates that a previously identified subset of the disease is no longer prognostically significant. The practical significance is that pediatric T-ALL should no longer be considered a poor outcome subset of acute leukemia, and laboratory measures of response are the best way to direct future therapy. For more information, see the study abstract.
Other research news:
Washington state’s student athletes gained a measure of safety when Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Act. About 1 in 250 young athletes has a heart disorder that heightens the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. The new law aims to inform sports-playing students, their parents and coaches about warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest. The law requires sports-playing students and their parents to sign a form annually before athletic participation begins, affirming that they have reviewed online information about symptoms, prevention and treatment of sudden cardiac arrest. For more information, read the article in HS NewsBeat.
UW Medicine and CoMotion, UW’s collaborative innovation hub, have partnered with Kineta, Inc., a Seattle biotechnology company focused on the development of new therapies for autoimmune and infectious diseases. This non-exclusive partnership, named the Alliance for Innovation in Therapeutics, will identify, fund and develop promising new therapeutics emerging from the UW’s research centers, with the goal of increasing the number of novel drug therapies advanced toward commercialization. The objective is to advance UW Medicine discoveries and speed the development process to bring important new therapeutics to market. For more information, read the article in the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Other clinical news:
Hundreds of UW Health Sciences students participated in the final session of the yearlong Interprofessional Education Initiative (IPE) program recently. The topic was pediatric dental caries, or tooth decay, a major public health problem. The exercise was part of an effort to help second-year graduate professional students consider the root causes of a larger health issue rather than focusing solely on the individual patient. About 650 students from the six Health Sciences Schools participated. Previous sessions included a case study about a patient who suffered heart failure and who didn't want medical treatment; a session on veterans and health care; and a case study of Doris, a patient with diabetes. For more information, read the article.
The Idaho Legislature approved funding for 10 seats authorized during the previous two legislative sessions for Idaho students to study at the UW School of Medicine as part of the WWAMI program. The legislature also provided funding for five additional WWAMI seats, bringing the number of Idaho’s first-year WWAMI medical school seats to 35 next fall. With the new seats, Idaho will have 140 medical students at all levels studying through the WWAMI program up from 80 just three years ago. For more information, listen to the story on Idaho Public Radio.
Other WWAMI news:
Stanley Fields, UW professor of medicine and genome sciences, and David B. Kaplan, UW professor of physics and director of the UW-based Institute for Nuclear Theory, were elected as 2015 fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. Fields and Kaplan join Pulitzer Prize-winner Holland Cotter, singer-songwriter Judy Collins, Nike co-founder Philip Knight, Nobel Prize-winner Brian Kobilka, Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and novelist Tom Wolfe in the 2015 academy class. For more information, see the article in UW Today, or read this week’s message from Paul Ramsey.
Brian Shirts, UW assistant professor of laboratory medicine, has received a Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award. The grant is awarded each year to early career scientists whose projects have the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Damon Runyon Foundation earmarks this award for exceptionally creative thinkers with “high-risk/high-reward” ideas who lack sufficient preliminary data to obtain traditional funding. Shirts seeks to empower patients who have been diagnosed with rare genetic mutations (variants of uncertain significance, or VUS) to actively participate in family tree pedigree building to understand their own genetic risk for cancer and other diseases. For more information, see the press release.
Katherine Xue, a UW graduate student in biology and genome sciences, received the prestigious Hertz Fellowship, awarded annually to support up to five years of graduate study in the applied physical, biological and engineering sciences. Awardees represent many of the top universities in the country and were chosen for intellect, ingenuity and potential to bring meaningful improvement to society. Xue is broadly interested in evolutionary biology and has worked on research projects in biochemistry, microbiology and molecular genetics. As a graduate student, she is applying frameworks from theoretical evolutionary biology to problems in medicine and ecology.
Michael J. MacCoss, UW professor of genome sciences, received the Biemann Medal from the American Society for Mass Spectrometry. The Biemann Medal recognizes significant achievement made in the early stages of a career. MacCoss was recognized for his contributions to the field of proteomics. Bioinformatics tools developed by the MacCoss laboratory facilitate many different aspects of mass spectrometry data analysis. This includes tools for liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) feature finding, spectrum library searching, peak detection and post-processors for peptide database searching. MacCoss also championed the nonprofit Chorus Project, a simple web application for storing, sharing, visualizing and analyzing spectrometry files.
Lucrezia Colonna, a postdoctoral fellow in rheumatology, has received the Perkins Coie 2015 “Award for Discovery.” Colonna plans to use the award to continue her research on investigating the protective role of intracellular complement C3 in the prevention of lupus autoimmunity. Lupus is a common, potentially lethal, complex autoimmune disease affecting more than 5 million patients worldwide. To date there is no definitive treatment for lupus and current therapies rely on immunosuppressive drugs that need to be administered for a patient’s entire life. In an effort to develop treatments and therapies for lupus and other conditions characterized by the accumulation of dying cells in tissues, Colonna’s research focuses on why serum C3-deficient individuals do not invariably develop lupus. The “Award for Discovery” is part of Perkins Coie’s commitment to support translational research at the UW School of Medicine.
Other awards news:
A national alliance of cancer-focused groups recently announced the formation of a ‘dream team’ dedicated to ovarian cancer research and an investment of $6 million over three years to pursue therapies. The team will be co-led by Elizabeth Swisher, UW professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and Alan D’Andrea of the Gene Therapy Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Cancer genetics and hereditary cancers are the focus of Swisher's clinical and research work. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic cancer. Approximately 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and 14,000 die of the disease. For more information, see the article in HS NewsBeat.
The Charles W. Bodemer Lecture is sponsored by the Department of Bioethics & Humanities. Kathleen E. Powderly, director of the John Conley Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, will talk about her work with the hospital archives of women’s experiences of abortion in New York City in the years prior to Roe v. Wade. The lecture is 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., in T625, UW Health Sciences Center. View the flier.
The Department of Global Health has a full week of events for anyone interested in global health. The marquee event is the Global Healthies Award Ceremony on Monday, May 11. There is also a career fair with more than 20 organizations, a trivia night with King Holmes, and several information sessions and discussions. For more details, visit globalhealth.washington.edu/ghcareer2015.
The John Fox Memorial Lecture and EPI 583 seminar is sponsored by the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health. Geoff Garnett, deputy director, Data and Metrics, Integrate Delivery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, works to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health programs. The history of approaches to understand the population level impact of HIV interventions will be reviewed along with descriptions of current studies to improve the information available to manage programs. The lecture is 3:30 to 4:50 p.m., K-069, UW Health Sciences Center. View the flier.
Visit Continuing Medical Education for information on upcoming classes.