The Science behind Project Violet

An amazing team of scientists from Fred Hutch including Drs. Jim Olson, Roland Strong, Julian Simon, Patrick Paddison, and Eduardo Mendez are together searching for breakthrough disease treatments. With the support of Project Violet, these doctors along with their team of researchers are developing a fundamentally new class of anti-cancer compounds: molecules engineered to attack cancer cells without harming the healthy cells around them.

These new compounds, called optides, could dramatically improve on traditional chemotherapies. And their approach is potentially less expensive and more powerful than other next-generation techniques. Optides address one of cancer treatment's most vexing problems: chemotherapies usually destroy healthy tissue alongside the cancerous cells they target. This can exact a heavy toll on patients, with many suffering such severe side effects that they must limit their chemotherapy dosage or stop treatment early. In contrast, optide molecules can be better instructed to bind to particular kinds of cancer cells, disabling only those cells. Optides can also be attached to chemotherapy drugs, transforming them into precision therapies that ignore healthy cells.

Dr. Jim Olson shares the story behind Tumor Paint and Project Violet and why he believes where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Looking Forward

Now Fred Hutch scientists are spearheading an ambitious program to develop optides that target some of the most treatment-resistant malignancies: brain cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, and tumors of the neck and throat. These molecules are poised to spark a radical leap forward in cancer medicine.

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Optides: Cancer’s Natural Enemy

This innovative research uses nature as its guide. Many organisms produce tiny proteins, called peptides, that are small enough, stable enough and specific enough to deliver cancer drugs. The team modifies these molecules to generate versions that zero in on cancer cells. Olson pioneered the clinical use of optides when he teamed up with researchers at Seattle Children's and the University of Washington to develop an innovative "tumor paint" — a drug that attaches to cancer cells and illuminates them, helping surgeons identify where cancers begin and end.