Around UW Medicine: News

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$15 million awarded to research AIDS vaccines

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health) awarded $15 million to UW Medicine to use genomics to test the efficacy of potential AIDS vaccines. The principal investigator is Michael Katze, Ph.D., UW professor in the Department of Microbiology and a pioneer in using systems biology to understand immune responses to infections. Katze says, “The AIDS vaccine field is in need of new approaches. The methods we use allow us to understand the gene expression changes that correlate with vaccine efficacy and will help to design better vaccines.” The researchers also will look for markers of protection, such as blood antibody levels that can be tested to show a vaccine has taken and confers immunity.

Gene for most common childhood cancer identified

In a study by UW Medicine researchers and others, an aberrant gene has been found to cause the most common childhood cancer in the world, pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL. The gene, PAX5, has long been known to be involved in ALL. The new study indicates that a mutation in the gene alone is sufficient to eventually cause the disease. ALL affects nearly 3,000 children and teenagers in the United States each year. “The discovery should make it possible to screen for the gene in families with a history of the disease and suggests new strategies for treating the disease,” said Marshall Horwitz, Ph.D. ’88, M.D. ’90, Res. ’92, UW professor of pathology and medicine at UW Medicine. Horwitz is a co-author of the new study, published Sept. 8 in the journal Nature Genetics, which also involved other UW collaborators, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

A genomic portrait of HeLa, the breakthrough cell line

UW Medicine researchers have unveiled a comprehensive portrait of the genome of HeLa, the world’s first immortal cell line. Prior to 1951, scientists had long tried to reproduce cells in a culture, but the cells always died. In contrast, the HeLa cells, taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951, reproduced at the rate of an entire generation every 24 hours and never stopped. HeLa cells made possible major medical breakthroughs: the polio vaccine, cloning and the development of drugs for treating major illnesses such as herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia and Parkinson’s disease. The cell line was derived from an aggressive cervical cancer that killed Lacks, a 31-year-old African-American tobacco farmer and mother of five, and the subject of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The researchers’ study, which may explain the aggressiveness of Lacks’ cancer and the staying power of the HeLa cell line, was published in the Aug. 8 issue of Nature. Jay Shendure, M.D., Ph.D., a UW associate professor of genome sciences, was the senior author.

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Patient Care

High rankings for all of UW Medicine’s hospitals

U.S. News & World Report again ranked UW Medical Center the best hospital in the Seattle metropolitan area (as well as the top hospital in Washington) in its recently published annual report on the nation’s best hospitals. Harborview Medical Center was ranked the No. 3 hospital in the Seattle area and No. 4 in Washington. Northwest Hospital & Medical Center was ranked No. 7 in the Seattle area and No. 9 in Washington, and Valley Medical Center was named No. 11 in Seattle and No. 14 in Washington. The magazine also rates 16 specialties, and of the 4,806 facilities ranked by the magazine, only 147 facilities were ranked in even one specialty area. Ten of UWMC’s specialties were nationally ranked, including a No. 4 ranking in rehabilitation, a No. 7 ranking in cancer, and a No. 8 ranking in diabetes and endocrinology.

Valley Medical Center receives American Heart Association Award

Valley Medical Center (VMC) has earned the Mission: Lifeline® Bronze Receiving Quality Achievement Award. This accolade, sponsored by the American Heart Association, recognizes the medical center’s commitment to a high standard of care for patients experiencing heart attacks. Each year in the United States, nearly 300,000 people have a STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction) — the most severe form of heart attack, caused by a blocked artery to the heart. VMC consistently improves outcomes for its STEMI patients by providing quick and appropriate treatment, as well as aggressive risk-reduction therapies, such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers.

New UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center opens

The new UW Medicine Sports Medicine Center, located at Husky Stadium, opened on Sept. 9. The state-of-the-art facility under the south stands of the stadium will be the home for a multidisciplinary sports medicine program dedicated to helping athletes of all levels — from recreational walkers to Husky athletes — recover from injuries and return to the activities they enjoy. The new center joins other locations, including Harborview Medical Center, Roosevelt and Eastside Specialty Center, in providing sports medicine care. Read our feature story on the new center.

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University of Washington again ranked among the world’s best

The University of Washington ranked third in the world in clinical medicine and pharmacy according to a recent study by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. The study ranked universities on quality of education, quality of faculty, research output and per capita performance. The top two spots in medicine and pharmacy were held by Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco. In addition, the University of Washington was ranked No. 5 in life and agricultural sciences and No. 16 overall.

MEDEX Northwest opens UW Tacoma campus

MEDEX Northwest, the UW School of Medicine’s physician assistant education program, opened its newest training site on the UW Tacoma campus in September. This program expansion is part of a national initiative, funded by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), to increase educational and employment opportunities for returning military veterans and to boost the primary-care workforce in rural and underserved areas. The site’s first class consists of 28 students. “This expansion of our program allows us to continue our 45-year history of selecting students from military and rural backgrounds who make tremendous contributions to the patients they serve,” says Ruth Ballweg, MPA, PA-C (Seattle Class 11), MEDEX Northwest section chief.

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(The five-state region served by the UW School of Medicine: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.)

Changes to the WWAMI landscape

UW Medicine’s five-state WWAMI program offers rich learning opportunities for medical students throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, and several programmatic changes are under way that will expand WWAMI’s reach. In an effort to boost the number of physicians who work in the WWAMI region, Montana and Idaho WWAMI increased medical student enrollment this year, and Spokane plans an increase in fiscal year 2015. In addition, the WWAMI Spokane site is conducting a pilot program: hosting second-year medical students who, traditionally, have spent their second year of medical school in Seattle. For details, please see Alumni and Student Updates.


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Research complex increases capacity at South Lake Union

This spring, the latest addition to UW Medicine’s research complex at South Lake Union opened its doors. The new 183,000-square-foot building houses researchers addressing immunology, rheumatology, kidney disease, infectious diseases and vision science. The building is designed to promote teamwork and the sharing of ideas among researchers in different fields and features energy-efficient elements, such as a cistern to capture and store rainwater for irrigation.

King Holmes receives Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement

King K. Holmes, M.D., Res. ’68, Chief Res. ’69, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Global Health and professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the William H. Foege Endowed Chair in Global Health, received the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) 2013 Alexander Fleming Award for Lifetime Achievement. The award recognizes Holmes’ career in research on the epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other infectious diseases. Among many other accomplishments, Holmes pioneered the modern era of STI prevention and control, shifting the original field of “venereology”— which focused on five venereal diseases — to a field focused on a wide variety of infections that cause serious complications, can disseminate throughout the body, and share a sexual mode of transmission. The Fleming Award is one of numerous awards Holmes has received for his work, including the 2013 Canada Gairdner Global Health Award announced earlier this year.

Randall Moon elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Randall Moon, Ph.D., UW professor of pharmacology and William and Marilyn Conner Chair for the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM), has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Moon was among 198 people elected to the academy this year. A leader in regenerative medicine research, Moon is the founding director of ISCRM at the University of Washington. His research focuses on Wnt signaling pathways — a network of proteins necessary for cell-to-cell communication and cell proliferation and differentiation.

Decoding Annie Parker features work of UW Medicine geneticist

The groundbreaking research of UW Medicine geneticist Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., is featured in a movie called Decoding Annie Parker. King, played by actress Helen Hunt, was the first person to identify BRCA1 — a gene for hereditary breast cancer. The film, which came out in spring 2013, follows King’s decades-long journey to discover this gene as well as the story of cancer survivor Annie Parker, who sought to understand why women in her family were prone to developing the disease. Two screenings of the film were held at the Seattle International Film Festival with ticket sales benefiting King’s research.

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