Inspiration Abounds at Fred Hutch

This has been an incredible year. The Max Foundation not only celebrated 20 wonderful years of impacting and changing lives it also expanded its horizons. We are embracing new challenges and turning them into opportunities to change lives across the globe.

During my visit to Seattle for our 20th anniversary celebration, I was fortunate to join my Max team and a few special friends on a recent visit to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The warmth of the building and faces that greeted us on arrival was a sharp contrast to the cloudy, cool autumn weather outside. Noting the Nobel Prize Laureates showcased on the wall just confirmed that we were indeed in a center of excellence.

For a moment I am star struck as I recognize the face shaking our hands and welcoming us as that of the famous (to us, at least) Dr. Jerry Radich. Dr. Radich is not only is a medical oncologist who specializes in the molecular genetics of leukemia, he is a hero to many lacking access to treatment and support!

Dr. Jerry Radich shows our team around the Fred Hutch campus.

Dr. Radich gives us a quick 101 on what PCR is and how it works. Getting lessons from one of the masters of chronic myeloid leukemia stands out as one of the highlights of my year. We are also fortunate to be given a sneak-peak of current research projects the team is working on and in this, we see a glimpse of the future, we have so much to look forward to!

Learning about cancer diagnostics from a master!

Following the crash course on PCR, we find ourselves walking down the corridor towards one of the laboratories, I am aware of the personal touches by staff as photos of their families, children and babies adore the bulletin boards and doorways. These are people who work day and night to create a better world for others, perhaps one day even for a face in the photos.

We enter the lab just in time to see the actual PCR diagnostics theory in practice. Sample and reagents are carefully placed in the cartridge and then placed in a gigantic GeneXpert machine, and a result will appear in 20 minutes. While the machine is doing its magic, we move to another lab where the incredible Spot On CML tests are being conducted. Earlier this year, Fred Hutch, together with The Max Foundation, launched a program in which CML diagnostics could be done for patients from across the world using only a few spots of dried blood. Yes, a drop of blood, shipped over days, even weeks, from the most remote places in the world is received here at The Hutch. RNA is subtracted and with a few “magic” touches the sample is ready for a PCR. Many lives are changed due to this project, these people and the innovation and technology that they drive.

Touring the lab felt like peeking into the future of cancer care.

Seeing the dedication and passion that drive these scientists I cannot only believe that we will one day live in a world where cancer is just a word and no longer a death threat.

As I exit through the doors of The Hutch I am hopeful, excited and optimistic to be not only part of a team that works towards positive change but also part of a global community that is striving to enable all patients to face cancer with dignity and hope.

Photos by Robert Hood/Fred Hutch News Service

Catherina Scheepers

Cathy is a Program Officer based in Pretoria, South Africa and leads our work throughout Africa.