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Project Violet, the TEDx Seattle Finale: Adopt a Drug to Cure Cancer, Begin the “Citizen Science” Adventure

Capping off the TEDx Seattle symposium at Seattle Center yesterday, Dr. Jim Olson announced the national launch of Project Violet, a large multidisciplinary project at Fred Hutch, focused on drug discovery that aims to bring the public closer to potentially lifesaving science.

Plants and animals make their own drugs to survive in the wild. Like a key fitting into a lock, these perfectly crafted molecules can shutdown infections or paralyze prey. Seattle’s Fred Hutch scientists have discovered how to create thousands of variations of these amazing drugs out of “optides,” or small proteins.  Sturdy and easily optimized, optides promise to be a new generation of drugs to fight disease. Armed with tens of thousands of new molecular keys, they are racing to find the ones that shutdown cancer or paralyze diseases that affect human patients.

What is Citizen Science?  For a tax-deductible $100 gift, you can help support one the 25,000 strains of new drug candidates that might otherwise go unexplored – and by sharing the drug discovery adventure, you may learn that you’ve made a lifesaving discovery. Plus, for your donation, your name may go down in history since you are free to name your drug.

Fred Hutch researchers have chosen spiders, petunias, potatoes, scorpions and horsehoe crabs as the basis for drug candidates.  These “scaffolds from nature” promise to yield potentially lifesaving results.

Looking ahead, Dr. Olson told the TEDx Seattle gathering, before they rose to their feet for a standing ovation, “I dream that before I retire, I will be able to walk into the room of a child with newly diagnosed brainstem glioma and tell them that there is hope for survival. I don’t care whether the advances come from our team or someone else – but I think we have the intellectual power, fortitude, strategic mindset and motivation to contend for the honor of finding a way to dampen the rage of this cancer.”

Dr. Olson and his team invented Tumor Paint, a Scorpion toxin based drug that makes cancer cells light up so that surgeons can distinguish cancer from normal tissue while operating. They also invented a way to test multiple different chemotherapy drugs in a patients’ tumor to prioritize the best drugs or combinations and eliminate in effective drugs.

For a visual overview, check out the TEDx Seattle 2013 Flickr gallery. [24×7]