Dr. Daniel Stetson, Associate Professor, Department of Immunology

Daniel Stetson, associate professor of immunology. Stetson studies how our cells detect infection by a virus. Sensors of foreign DNA and RNA are essential for activating immune responses to viruses, but they can also cause autoimmune disease if not properly regulated. Stetson’s lab explores this dichotomy of protective immunity and autoimmunity activated by the same antiviral sensors.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Simons Foundation(link is external), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation(link is external) today announced the selection of 84 Faculty Scholars, early-career scientists who have great potential to make unique contributions to their field. The scientists represent 43 institutions across the United States.

“We are very excited to welcome these accomplished scientists into the HHMI community,” said HHMI President Erin O’Shea. “We’re equally gratified to work alongside our philanthropic partners to help these early-career scientists move science forward by pursuing their bold ideas.”

Through the new Faculty Scholars Program, the philanthropies will spend about $83 million over five years to support the first cohort of scientists selected to receive grants. The range of five-year grant award totals is $600,000-$1.8 million, including indirect costs. The awards are subject to applicants and their institutions fulfilling the requirements of the grant-making organizations. Faculty Scholars are required to devote at least 50 percent of their total effort to the direct conduct of research.

"Support for outstanding early-career scientists is essential for continued progress in science in future years,” said Marian Carlson, Director of Life Sciences at the Simons Foundation.

This is the first collaboration between HHMI, the Simons Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The philanthropies joined forces to create this program in response to growing concern about the significant challenges that early-career scientists are facing. The career trajectory for early-career scientists has become much less certain as competition for grant support intensifies. In the last two decades, the U.S. has witnessed a dramatic decline in the National Institutes of Health research award success rate for scientists, as well as a striking increase in the average age at which an investigator receives his or her first R01-equivalent grant.

“We are delighted to help enable superb early-career scientists to bring transformative innovation to priority global health problems,” said Chris Karp, Director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In today’s constrained research funding environment, the creativity and energy that researchers bring to starting their own labs can quickly be sapped by the time-consuming and often frustrating quest for grant funding. Within a few years of a new faculty appointment, a researcher's institutional start-up funds typically come to an end. Pressure to secure federal grant money may lead to “safe” grant proposals. As a result, creative and potentially transformative research projects may fall by the wayside.

“This program will provide these scientists with much needed flexible resources so they can follow their best research ideas,” said HHMI Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer David Clapham.

Early-career researchers with more than 4, but no more than 10, years of experience as faculty members were eligible to apply for this competition. Faculty at more than 220 institutions were eligible. Distinguished scientists reviewed and evaluated more than 1,400 applicants on their potential for significant research productivity and originality, as judged by their doctoral and postdoctoral work, results from their independent research program, and their future research plans.


Marion Pepper is an assistant professor for the department of immunology at the University of Washington.

From kindergarten through high school, Marion Pepper attended an all-girls school outside Philadelphia that placed a lot of emphasis on the sciences. “The major benefit was that I never knew there were ‘things girls couldn’t do,’” she said. “I think it was really empowering.”

While in high school, though, Pepper found two passions – writing and biology, and she could never quite decide which to pursue. So, she did both and graduated from a small college in Massachusetts with her bachelor’s in both English and biology. Coming out of college, Pepper thought she wanted to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and become a medical doctor, so she started taking pre-med classes. But, when her high school biology teacher got sick and her high school needed a substitute, Pepper stepped up and ended up loving it. She taught at the school for four more years. “Then I got bored with teaching all the science and instead wanted to do the science and test out my own hypotheses,” she said, adding that she also “kept thinking more and more about doing science and less and less about treating people.”

Pepper’s identical twin had already graduated with her doctorate in developmental genetics, and Pepper started down the same path. While taking an immunology class, though, she fell in love with it, switching gears again. “It sort of found me, more than I found it,” she said. “I tried on a lot of different hats and this was the one that fit the best.” She had always been intrigued by developmental biology – how cells change and function and what regulates that. For her, though, immunology and specifically infectious disease research, was that “but on speed.” “These cells have to develop fast, but also have to do it in competition with something that wanted to kill them,” she said, explaining her focus in the study of the immune system, or immunology. “It is a puzzle to figure out how cells win against things that are invading.” The Seattle area is prime with immunologists and researchers looking for immunotherapies to treat and cure cancer. Pepper, though, is studying infectious diseases such as malaria and allergens looking to both make better vaccines and suppress allergic responses. Coming to Seattle was a great move for her, she said because it is a great place to be for immunology. “Our department is down in South Lake Union and I love it because we have Seattle BioMed across the street, Fred Hutch down the street, Juno is moving in next door,” she said. “The Institute for Systems Biology and Benaroya Research Institute and all these other places are within a 10-block radius from our department, which really facilitates collaboration.”

People in Research Name: Marion Pepper Age: 43 Job:
Assistant professor in the department of immunology at UW
Education: B.A. in English and Biology from Williams College and Ph.D. in Immunology from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

People in Research is a weekly series highlighting the people who are driving innovation and growth in the Puget Sound region's expanding life science sector, which is the fifth largest employment sector in Washington.

The state ranks No. 8 in the nation for the amount of funding received from the National Institutes of Health — $885 million in 2015.

Zika has arrived in the Northwest. Will it spread? The short answer: “It’s pretty unlikely, at this point,” says Justin Roby, an immunologist at the University of Washington who specializes in flaviviruses (a genus of viruses that includes dengue, West Nile and Zika).

Zika Has Arrived in the Northwest. Will it Spread?

Article By Samantha Larson, Crosscut

Doctors confirmed the eighth case of Zika in King County this week, bringing the total number of infections found in Washington State up to 24. Zika puts fetuses at risk of microcephaly, a condition that affect’s a baby’s head size, and thus brain development.

In all of these instances, the virus was acquired while traveling in Latin America or the Caribbean. But Zika is now spreading in Miami — the first cases of local transmission within the continental U.S. Does that mean that mosquitoes could spread the disease here in Seattle, too?

The short answer: “It’s pretty unlikely, at this point,” says Justin Roby, an immunologist at the University of Washington who specializes in flaviviruses (a genus of viruses that includes dengue, West Nile and Zika).

But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.

None of the more than 40 mosquito species found in Washington are effective carriers of this particular virus. Zika is most commonly transmitted by a species of mosquitoes called Aedis aegypti and, a bit less commonly, by another species called Aedes albopictus. Simply put, the weather here is too cold for those types of mosquitoes, which prefer the tropics. (In fact, for a variety of reasons, we have relatively few skeeters here at all.)

While the range of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, particularly albopictus, does include large portions of the U.S., from Delaware to California, and is increasing as climate change continues to cause temperatures to rise, at present, Washington is a safe distance from any of the bugs’ potential habitat.

“There may be rare instances where the mosquito is imported accidentally,” Roby explains — on a shipment of fruits or vegetables, for example. “But I don’t imagine they’ll be able to establish themselves here because of the winters we have.”

Read the full article on Crosscut.

Check out the Department of Immunology Immun 573 Seminar Series speakers this coming Fall 2016

Congratulations to Dr. Chrissie Lim for successfully defending her dissertation on Thursday, August 4, 2016.  Her dissertation title is “Alternative splicing takes control of cytokine signaling.”  Dr. Lim spent her time in the University of Washington Immunology graduate program under the mentorship of Dr. Ram Savan and working in his lab at UW Medicine's South Lake Union Campus.

A class of white cells that has long been thought to play a relatively minor role in the body’s defenses against malaria infection may, in fact, be a potent weapon against the malaria parasite. These cells may be key to developing more effective vaccines, according to a report today in the journal Immunity. UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s researchers headed the study. The findings suggest that these white blood cells, called IgM memory B cells, may be more important in the body’s early response to malaria re-infection than another group of cells, called IgG memory B cells, that for years have been the focus of malaria-vaccine research, said Marion Pepper, University of Washington assistant professor of immunology. She led the research project. “The focus on IgG memory B cells in malaria vaccine development may be why malaria vaccines developed to date have not proven very effective,” Pepper said. Read the full UW Health Sciences News Beat Article.

Mouse red blood cells infected with the rodent parasite Plasmodium chabaudi. The blue ring structures in the cells are the blood form of the parasite.Pepper designed the experiments with Akshay T. Krishnamurty, a UW graduate student who also performed the experiments with help from Gladys Keitany and Karen Kim. David J. Rawlings designed and Christopher D. Thouvenel performed the sequencing analysis, cloning and generation of the monoclonal antibodies. They are both from UW Medicine and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Anthony Holder and Jean Langhorne, of the Francis Crick Institute, London, provided the Merozoite Surface Protein 1. Peter D. Compton, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, provided expertise with human experiments and human samples. 
Photo by: Akshay Krishnamurty, Pepper Lab, UW Immunology
LEFT: Mouse red blood cells infected with the rodent parasite Plasmodium chabaudi.
The blue ring structures in the cells are the blood form of the parasite.

Authors: Akshay T. Krishnamurty, Christopher D. Thouvenel,  Silvia Portugal,  Gladys J. Keitany, Karen S. Kim,  Anthony Holder,&nbsp Peter D. Crompton, David J. Rawlings,  Marion Pepper

Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof

Justin Roby, PhD, UW postdoctoral fellow in immunology in the Gale Lab, was selected as the recipient of the 2016 Perkins Coie Award for Discovery. He was awarded $20,000 for his project, "Zika virus dysregulates JAK/STAT signaling in the fetal brain leading to development of microcephaly." The Seattle-based law firm chose this project because they said it has the potential to open an exciting new area of research.

Dr. Roby was also interviewed by Q-13 Fox News regarding his ongoing research, watch the interview here: http://q13fox.com/2016/05/27/local-uw-researchers-working-on-combating-zika-virus/ 

Congratulations Justin!

For more information on Perkins Coie visit: https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/about-us/firm/diversity/awards-sponsorships.html###

Seattle Times consults with Immunology Assistant Professor Dr. Marion Pepper on allergic reactions. 

Marion Pepper, an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s immunology department, said people have allergic reactions because their bodies’ adaptive immune systems have developed a memory that causes them to rapidly build up a defense.

That’s good when an infectious disease is trying to invade, but not when it’s a harmless allergen.

“That memory response leads to this massive activation of cells, and that leads to symptoms of allergic asthma, skin allergies or pollen allergies,” Pepper said. “We all get exposed to these allergens. It’s not really understood why some people have a higher propensity to respond than others.” Genetics and environment are believed to contribute, she said. And the misery comes en masse: “Generally, if you’re allergic to one thing … you’re actually allergic to multiple things,” Pepper said.

Read the full article here: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/weather/in-the-sneeze-zone-high-pollen-counts-on-sunny-days-hit-allergy-sufferers-hard/

Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Phil Greenberg, and Dr. Stanley Riddell

Biden started his visit with a tour of the lab of Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Stanley Riddell, accompanied by Dr. Phil Greenberg. Both Greenberg and Riddell are leaders in the field of immunotherapy. Last month, Riddell made headlines when he presented preliminary findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting of a clinical trial showing complete remissions in many patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The trial participants were treated with a form of immunotherapy called adoptive T-cell therapy, which uses intact, living T cells — isolated from the patient’s blood and reprogrammed specifically to target the disease — to eliminate tumors. Some patients, for whom no other treatments had worked and who were only weeks from death, are still alive 18 months later, Riddell said.

"We've really worked at understanding the cells that we are engineering in a different way from any other center .... It's allowed us to treat patients with extremely small doses of cells," he said.

When asked by Biden why that matters, Riddell explained: "It's relevant because it makes the process of generating a cell product faster and more cheaply," ultimately making it more affordable and accessible for patients. 

Every time Riddell sees patients in the clinic, he goes back to his research with a new sense of urgency, he said. “The courage of patients is inspiring, and it makes me realize that we don’t have the best [treatments] yet. We have to do better.”

This year alone, 600,000 people in the U.S. will die of cancer, noted Gilliland in his welcoming remarks to Biden. “At Fred Hutch, our goal is to cure cancer, not just treat it.”

Read the full article here: https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2016/03/Vice-President-Joe-Biden-visits-Fred-Hutch.html

 Vice President Joe Biden talks to cancer immunotherapy researchers Dr. Stan Riddell, left, and Dr. Phil Greenberg during a Fred Hutch lab tour. 

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Congratulations to Dr. Travis Friesen for successfully defending his dissertation on Monday, February 8, 2016.  His dissertation title is“Tolerance induction in recent thymic emigrants.”  Dr. Friesen spent his time in the University of Washington Immunology graduate program under the mentorship of Dr. Pam Fink and working in the Fink Lab at South Lake Union.