Sequim girl becomes face of scientific research

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Violet O’Dell, the 11-year-old Sequim girl who inspired the Sequim community, continues to foster hope through the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.


She’s the face and story behind Project Violet, a new research effort from Dr. Jim Olson, M.D. Ph.D., of Seattle Children’s and the FHCRC.


The project launches nationally Monday, Aug. 12, online at by opening up for backers to sponsor optides, optimized peptides, starting at $100 in your name or someone else’s.


These proteins and altered structurally stable proteins are sturdy and easily optimized, researchers said, and use thousands of years of evolutionary changes to combat predators and diseases.


Olson’s lab will document and share the results with each sponsor as the optide goes through the research process.


“This gives people the chance to know if the drugs they adopted work,” Olson said.


His team’s research could help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, melanoma and more.


“People could adopt a drug that could help hundreds of thousands of people,” Olson said.


He developed the project after caring for Violet for more than a year at Seattle Children’s with her parents Jeramie and Jess O’Dell.


Violet was diagnosed with a brainstem glioma, a rare inoperable brain stem tumor, at age 10. She died on Oct. 26, 2012. About a month later, Jess O’Dell received an unexpected call from Olson.


“He told me had a lot of ideas and doesn’t want this to be one that goes away,” she said.


Olson said Violet stood out to him for her positivity, sense of community and family, and a strong faith in God that gave her strength.


“There are buildings after wealthy donors and companies. I figured this is the coolest science project I’ve worked on and I want to name it after her,” he said.


“She’s not one to shy back. That’s the mindset behind our whole program. We go all out. And together we’re taking a seat at the table, to innovate one of the most innovative drug discoveries in the world.”



Research opportunity

Olson and his research team come from developing tumor paint, a method using scorpion venom to highlight cancer cells for surgeons to remove the cells more accurately. Through this, they’re using optides to speed up the drug discovery process.


Shane Hollett, senior managing director development with the the FHCRC, said Olson’s methods can develop prescription drugs for $20 to $50 million rather than billions of dollars.


He adds that private donations can be less restrictive than grants and cheaper than pharmaceutical companies’ methods.


“People can say, ‘Here’s my private donation, go try something crazy.’The parameters are free to explore,” Hollett said.


In comparison to projects like Kickstarter, Hollett said that method is like using your Rolodex, but this effort is worldwide.


“This gives them the option to be a part of it and we want them to beinvolved,” he said.


Initially, Project Violet has a goal of $20 million to grow a team of doctors and researchers.


Hollett said the money helps keep the lab competitive with other labs wanting to recruit Project Violet’s team.


The project started with a soft launch among friends and families before earning around $50,000 since the spring.


Olson said scientists don’t make very much money and that people are surprised to learn how much it costs to have world-class scientists.


“If you are going to have the most innovative program in the world, you have to have the most innovative researchers in the world,” he said.


His motivation continues from the hope of offering sincere hope to families.


“In 23 years, I’ve never had a child survive (Violet’s) kind of cancer,” Olson said. “I want to give them real hope.”


An awesome girl

Through her treatment, Violet always asked questions that would surprise Olson, her mom said.


“Violet was epic,” Jess said. “She was so far above everything and to have this after isn’t surprising.”


When asked what Violet’s reaction to this would be, Jess said a healthy Violet would dryly say, “I’m awesome.”


Once Project Violet is launched, the team is looking to begin an educational component allowing for people to sponsor optides for classroom lessons and online resources.


Olson said they are working hard with educational consultants to develop the idea to bridge the lab work with classrooms.


Jess said she’s been amazed at the level of support, especially at the first volunteer meeting where more than 100 people showed up.


Project Violet is a 501©3 under the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Donations are tax-deductible and donors are able to give less than $100.


For more information on Project Violet, visit


Reach Matthew Nash at
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