Keeping People Alive and Well is a Race Against Time: a shot to ward off the flu, for instance; surgery to fix a faulty heart; chemotherapy to prevent cancer’s spread. And at UW Medicine, we’re on the fast track to winning this race, so that deadly and chronic illnesses become more treatable, even curable.
Accelerate: The Campaign for UW Medicine is a multi-year effort to raise $2 billion to shorten the distance to healthier lives — for everyone, everywhere. We’ve profiled a few of the brilliant people working on our Campaign priorities, from mental health to global health, and from stem cell regeneration to protein design. Join us on the fast track — be part of our acceleration.
Thanks to generous contributors, UW Medicine is a little more than halfway to its Campaign goal of $2 billion. The snapshot below indicates the funding received for each of our 12 Campaign priorities.
Creating Proteins to Fight Disease at the Molecular Level
Tamuka Chidyausiku’s dream of being a scientist began with his father’s oversized blue coat. His father bleached it white, to resemble a lab coat, and placed it on his son’s shoulders. That budding scientist is now a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry, learning how to create proteins from scratch at the UW Medicine-based Institute for Protein Design (IPD).
Proteins are the dynamos of the human body — they digest food, fight infection and move muscles, among many other processes. However, when proteins malfunction, they become a source of disease. At the IPD, researchers like Chidyausiku are attempting to engineer new proteins to improve human health.
David Baker, Ph.D., is the IPD’s director. “For every scientific field, there’s some time in history when it advances really rapidly,” says Baker. “That’s the stage we’re at now with protein design.”
Recent innovations at the IPD include new proteins that block influenza infection, deliver chemotherapy agents directly to tumors, treat autoimmune diseases and protect against viruses. Designer proteins also hold promise as diagnostic tools, an area Baker feels could be integral to population health. “We’re exploring how to create affordable, easy-to-use sensors that can detect vitamin deficiencies and the presence of viruses like Zika,” says Baker.
Protein design’s potential applications extend into other fields, like the environment. For example, Chidyausiku hopes to design proteins that break down toxic pesticides in the soil. To achieve this goal, he must first understand how proteins fold — how they take on a particular shape to fulfill a function. “The Baker lab does this work better than anyone else in the world. Coming to the UW was a no-brainer,” he says.
Baker’s mentorship has been crucial to Chidyausiku’s success. “He’s not only interested in my projects, but my career, too. I’m really lucky to have him,” says Chidyausiku.
The Washington Research Foundation
Protein Design, Discovery, Social Justice
For Ron Howell, the value of science goes deeper than creating new medicines or inventing leading-edge technology. “Science allows us to peel back the layers of ignorance and discover how things work, how to survive and how to achieve social justice,” he says.
Howell is president and CEO of the Washington Research Foundation (WRF), and in 2014, the WRF made a generous gift that enabled the recruitment of new fellows at the Institute for Protein Design (IPD). “The institute is so avant-garde,” says Howell. “We wanted to accelerate their progress by bringing in people with new skills and perspectives to collaborate.”
Working within other University of Washington departments and Seattle-area research institutions, the fellows use protein design to tackle problems related to human health and the environment.
Fellow Franziska Seeger, Ph.D. (pictured), is working with Mohamed Oukka, Ph.D., a UW associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics based at Seattle Children’s, to create novel therapeutics for autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis. “The goal is to make treatment more readily available and cheaper to deliver, particularly for children in the developing world,” says Seeger.
Nearly two years into her fellowship, Seeger feels inspired. “I’m surrounded by intelligent, driven people. This is the most collaborative environment I have ever experienced,” she says.
David Baker, Ph.D., director of the IPD, shares her inspiration, and he reflects a moment on the foundation’s generosity. “Their gift is enabling discoveries in a number of areas, such as diabetes and cell-based therapies for cancer,” he says. “The impact of the research is truly amazing.”
Developing treatments and cures — especially for cancer — that are specific to each patient
“Historically, cancer has found a way around everything we’ve thrown at it,” says Jay Shendure, M.D., Ph.D., UW professor in the Department of Genome Sciences and affiliate investigator at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
But recent, remarkable advances, including the invention of powerful technologies for sequencing and analyzing cancer genomes, are converging to create new opportunities to beat cancer. Namely, they’re converging to create precision medicine: using a person’s specific biology to determine the most effective treatment for cancer and other ailments.
To Shendure, the epicenter for precision medicine is in Seattle. “In terms of biomedical research, in terms of dollars received from the National Institutes for Health, and in terms of the caliber of new discoveries — we are leading the world in precision medicine research,” he says.
In Seattle, world-class institutions in biomedical research and care — UW Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s — exist in close proximity and in close collaboration. “We all have a tremendous amount of respect for each other,” Shendure says. “It’s reflected by the fact that leadership at all three institutions solidly stands behind a shared vision.”
He also sees the potential in further collaboration, perhaps bringing researchers together even more closely to advance immunotherapy and gene-sequencing technology. “We want to build bridges in specific ways to address specific projects — to do things that would be impossible as individual labs or institutions,” says Shendure.
Precision medicine has already benefited a handful of cancer patients, and vaccine development at UW Medicine is showing great promise in preventing cancer relapse. The benefits of the research are clear. The ultimate goal, however, is to accelerate access for the greatest number of patients possible — and to make cancer a curable disease, rather than a deadly one.
“Eliminating cancer is a battle that will be won over many decades, playing out in our children’s and our grandchildren’s lifetimes,” says Shendure. “But it starts here and now.”
Conducting Basic Research to Spark Cures
“Basic research has allowed us to make big strides in developing new therapeutics for ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses, like Zika — they mutate rapidly, so they develop resistance to antiviral drugs. We’re studying how the body recognizes these viruses so we can create a drug that triggers the immune system to fight them. By targeting human cells rather than the virus, mutation becomes a non-issue, and we hope to protect people from Zika and other RNA viruses, like Ebola, influenza and West Nile.”
Michael Gale, Jr., Ph.D.
UW Professor, Department of Immunology
Director, Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease
Keeping people — and their brains — well and thriving
“When I first started seeing patients in the clinic, I would focus on clinical diagnosis, symptom management and support. In the last few years, that dynamic has evolved. There is a growing synergy between research advances in areas such as disease modeling, biomarkers and genomic medicine, and all of them affect the clinic experience. In my Huntington clinic, for instance, we now discuss clinical trials aimed at inhibiting the disease-causing gene. I see patients with familial Alzheimer’s disease who are enrolled in ongoing studies investigating the use of antibodies in the removal of the amyloid peptide. We are actively engaging families in valuable longitudinal studies and interventions which hold potential as disease-modifying therapies. We couldn’t do that five years ago. And we can’t lose sight of the larger goal, which is to be prepared to bring therapies to the broader community. Drugs need to be affordable and feasible to make a true impact on public health in this country and globally.”
Suman Jayadev, M.D., Res. ’01 (internal medicine), ’04 (neurology)
UW Associate Professor, Department of Neurology
Director, UW Neurogenetics Clinic
Director, UW Huntington Disease Center of Excellence
Creating the road map to global health and social justice
When government officials in Rwanda studied the data from the Global Burden of Disease study, they knew they had a problem. Far too many Rwandan children were dying as infants, and there weren’t enough skilled neonatologists in the country to help.
Since training new neonatologists would take too long, they decided to use health aid dollars and in-kind donations to install incubators in rural clinics. And they trained existing personnel in a few skills that would help keep babies alive for those first, critical weeks of life. It worked. Government reports indicate that neonatal mortality rates are falling.
Facilitating good, informed decisions: that’s what the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study was designed to do. Coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the GBD brings together enormous amounts of data from around the world and, to make sense of it, taps the expertise of nearly 2,000 collaborators in about 130 nations. The result is the best, most complete analysis of global and local health trends available, which IHME shares with people responsible for health policy and spending. It’s a powerful tool for addressing health problems and fiscal accountability, and it’s one of the cornerstones of the University of Washington’s Population Health Initiative.
“The GBD is now the largest scientific collaboration publishing today,” says Bill Heisel, IHME’s director of global engagement. “The work is massive in scope with a clear mission: create a world where everyone has a chance to live a long life in full health.”
Tina Fitzmaurice, M.D., MPH, Fel. ’15, a hematologist-oncologist at Harborview Medical Center, is one of dozens of researchers who conduct data analysis for IHME. She came on board in 2014. “One huge benefit of the GBD is that you’re able to put a single disease or disease group, like cancer, into context,” she says.
For instance, findings from the GBD collaboration show that cancer is the second leading global cause of death after cardiovascular disease. In contrast, when you look at what the study terms “years lived with disability,” meaning any time spent in less than optimal health, things like mental and substance abuse disorders rise to the top, along with musculoskeletal disorders and diabetes. Cancer falls in the rankings to No. 14.
Given her public health background, Fitzmaurice feels fortunate to see individual patients and to conduct research that benefits entire populations. She particularly appreciates the intense, caring ethos at IHME — her colleagues want to make sure leaders are making effective investments in the health of their countries.
“Everyone here is very driven,” she says. “Not to advance their own careers, but to actually produce good estimates that improve global health.”
Making great mental health care available and accessible to everyone
“In Washington alone, more than half the people who need mental health care never see a specialist; access is a big problem, especially if you live in a rural area. So we’ve developed an approach called Collaborative Care. By partnering with our colleagues in primary care and in school settings, we can reach more people in need of mental health care. And in recent years, we’ve also developed a telehealth consultation program that supports more than 100 primary-care clinics around the state. We’re leveraging expertise and opening new doors in order to have a bigger impact on a population level.”
Jürgen Unützer, M.D., MPH
UW Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Director, Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions (AIMS) Center
Helping make our later years some of our best: treating conditions related to aging
“Imagine there was something you really wanted to do — be a pilot, a chef or a police officer — and you couldn’t because of a deficit you didn’t even know you had. Color-blindness can prevent people from living fully, and we’re using gene therapy to change that. By delivering healthy genes to photoreceptor cells in the retina, our goal is to not only treat color-blindness but other vision disorders, too, like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and myopia. UW Medicine’s collaborative, collegial research environment is ideal for our work. ”
Maureen Neitz, Ph.D.
UW Professor, Department of Ophthalmology
Ray H. Hill Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology
Learning how to create and regenerate new cells and organs
Why does the body fail? And how can it best be fixed? These are the questions that drive stem cell scientists at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) at UW Medicine.
“Our goal is to take the building blocks of life — human stem cells — and use them as therapeutics to rebuild damaged organs,” says ISCRM Interim Director Chuck Murry, M.D., Ph.D., Res. ’92 (pathology), co-director of the UW Center for Cardiovascular Biology.
Regenerative medicine is made possible by rapid advances in our understanding of the biology of stem cells, which have the capability to form all the tissues of the body. With these advances come tools capable of treating — and possibly curing — some of the world’s most common causes of death and disability: chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Many people who suffer from chronic diseases have missing or damaged cell populations: dead heart tissue, for instance, that cannot repair itself. That’s where stem cells — which allow researchers to create living tissue — come in. Eventually, researchers hope to be able to use stem cell technology to create, then transplant, healthy new cardiac muscle cells or engineered 3-D tissue.
It’s a prospect that inspires Murry’s work in regenerating heart muscle. “We can get at the root cause of these chronic diseases instead of just treating symptoms,” he says.
Today, using stem cells to grow tissue is also proving beneficial in developing personalized therapies for illnesses like cancer or genetic diseases. Using high-throughput processing, scientists can screen hundreds of FDA-approved drugs and experimental compounds against stem cell-created tissues, or human cancer cells, to find the best treatment for each person. “The ability to test huge numbers of drugs quickly, multiple times, and in relevant human systems is a real game-changer,” says Murry.
In all this research, collaboration is key to success, notes Kaytlyn Gerbin, a graduate research assistant in the Murry lab. “There’s a diverse group of scientists, engineers, clinicians and students, all working toward a common goal,” she says. That goal? Saving lives.
Murry agrees, adding, “People here like to work together on complex science — and to work on things that are bigger than themselves.”
Eileen and Larry Tietze
Investing in Big Ideas
“It started with one award,” says Larry Tietze. He’s referring to the gift that his family foundation, the John H. Tietze Foundation Trust, made to UW Medicine in 2006.
Approximately 10 years and more than 20 awards later, Larry and his wife, Eileen, continue to support junior researchers focused on stem cell research — and the return on investment is awe-inspiring. Many award recipients have leveraged the Tietzes’ investment to secure millions of dollars in grants to further their work.
Early funding, like the kind the Tietze family provides, gives junior researchers a chance to explore big ideas — high-risk, high-reward projects that accelerate medicine.
“The Tietze Award addresses a critical funding niche for promising research ideas or projects not served by traditional National Institutes of Health funding mechanisms, and it also serves as a catalyst for the overall success of a developing laboratory,” says 2010 Tietze Award recipient Robert Rostomily, M.D., Res. ’92 (neurological surgery).
Inspired by the success of the Tietze Awards, which have allowed breakthroughs important to human health and spurred further investment, Larry and Eileen established a charitable remainder trust for UW Medicine. They know their planned gift will leverage progress at UW Medicine.
“We could not be more excited about the return on investment,” says Larry. “You don’t have to be a billionaire to make a big difference to life-saving science.”
Ensuring that all our patients receive the best, most compassionate care
Since they moved to Seattle 53 years ago, Bill Rex and his wife, Lois, have been part of many Seattle institutions: Ryther Child Center, the Museum of Flight, the UW Medicine Board. Bill Rex has also been involved with UW Medicine in an entirely different way: as a patient.
In 1997, he was treated for colon cancer and a broken blood vessel at UW Medical Center; in 2016, he had an emergency surgery at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. He spent 40 days afterward in the hospital, being nursed back to health after double pneumonia set in.
Inspired by Bill’s care, and by his long-standing volunteer leadership with Northwest Hospital’s board, the Rexes made a planned gift to Northwest Hospital & Medical Center: the largest one ever made to the institution. It was a different set of circumstances, however, that inspired the Rexes’ planned gift to the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Not long ago, Bill and other UW Medicine Board members paid a visit to doctors helping veterans with psychiatric problems at UW Medical Center’s Roosevelt Clinic. Bill was deeply moved. “They’re helping people who saved our country,” he says.
Bill was an investment banker for his entire career, and when the Rexes decided to create a charitable remainder trust to make their planned gifts, they knew it was a solid choice. But they also enjoy knowing that their gifts will continue their legacy of service.
“There’s great satisfaction in knowing we’re helping people for years to come,” says Bill.
Securing superb faculty and the resources they need to do their best work
“Medicine is accelerating at a tremendous rate, and at any given time, UW Medicine has hundreds of bright, entrepreneurial people working on promising research projects that will improve health. We strive to accelerate this groundbreaking science, led by UW Medicine faculty based in the Pacific Northwest, so that their discoveries can improve health for all people.”
Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
CEO, UW Medicine; Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine, University of Washington
Keeping the cardiovascular system strong and healthy
“No population health initiative will be successful if it does not address cardiovascular disease, which accounts for more deaths than any other disease in the world. We’ve been working with Judy Wasserheit in global health and Chris Murray at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to develop a cardiovascular global health program — to show that we can marry the technology developed in the Seattle area with world-class global health investigators and great cardiovascular care. There aren’t many places in the world that have a similar mix of this kind of expertise, so we can really make an impact. Not just in WWAMI and the U.S., but also around the world and in low- and middle-income countries.”
W. Robb MacLellan, M.D.
UW Professor of Medicine and Head, Division of Cardiology
Robert A. Bruce Endowed Chair in Cardiovascular Research
It’s the UW School of Medicine’s innovative five-state educational partnership. This partnership brings together universities, hospitals, clinics, doctors and faculty in the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho to provide a stellar education to medical students.
Educating the people who will drive the future of medicine
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentorship. The community doctors I worked with during my WWAMI rotations were exceptional teachers, always eager to help me learn. And the scholarship gave me the peace of mind and financial stability to focus on my schooling, my patients, my clinics — on becoming a knowledgeable and helpful doctor. Now I look forward to pursuing my calling: practicing family medicine and serving as a mentor to the next generation of underrepresented students.”
Elisabeth Bedolla Rocha, M.D. ’16
Recipient of the Angela Páez-Paul G. Ramsey, M.D. Endowed Scholarship in Medicine
Creating Doctors for Our Region
When Gary Ames became CEO of MediaOne International in London, he found that the telecommunications company was losing money. He assembled an executive team: men and women of different ethnicities, hailing from five countries. Thanks to the team’s rich blend of ideas and perspectives, the company began to flourish, with an annual cash flow of $500 million per year.
The lesson stuck with Ames, even after his tenure as CEO. “When I retired, I really wanted to cultivate diversity in higher education — improve the pipeline for diverse leaders in a variety of fields,” he says.
Ames and his wife, Barbara, established the Ames Family Foundation to fund minority student scholarships at universities in the Pacific Northwest. In 2001, the Ames family set up a fund to honor Angela Páez, a student at the UW School of Medicine who had died in an avalanche. “Her dedication to helping underrepresented students pursue careers in medicine perfectly matched what we were trying to do,” says Ames. “It’s vital to produce doctors who reflect the diversity of the WWAMI region.”
Inspired by a generous matching challenge gift from the dedicated donors of the Huckabay family, Ames and his wife created the Angela Páez-Paul G. Ramsey, M.D. Endowed Scholarship in Medicine, which supported Elisabeth Bedolla Rocha, M.D. ’16, profiled above. “The Huckabays gave us an opportunity to double our investment,” says Ames. “The challenge is a fantastic way to educate and nurture other donors.”
The Magnificent Match
The Huckabay Family Challenge, begun in 2011, is the most generous matching program — led by individual donors — in the University of Washington’s history. Led by contributors Susan Huckabay, John Huckabay, and Katherine and Richard Williams, the challenge has helped UW Medicine raise money for medical-student scholarships.
given by the Huckabays
committed by other individuals
designed to support students in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) program
focused on recruiting students from diverse and/or disadvantaged backgrounds
10 alumni classes
inspired to establish or increase a scholarship fund
created their own scholarship 21 years ago, and, since its inception, it has awarded 741 scholarships to 402 students.