Power Players

The Most Influential Scientists, Doctors, and Environmentalists in Seattle

Health and climate champions who do the most vital work.

By Angela Cabotaje December 8, 2021 Published in the Winter 2021 issue of Seattle Met

Kemi Doll Minds the Gap

The Seattle doctor thrust a relatively unknown cancer, and its demographics, into the national spotlight.

Kemi Doll is used to being one of the only—or the only—Black women in a room, the unfortunate norm in medical academia. It’s an existence that’s fraught with hypervisibility and intense pressure, but it can lead to a specific, undeniable sort of clarity. In Doll’s case: endometrial cancer’s disproportionate toll on Black women.

Doll, a gynecologic oncologist and associate professor at UW School of Medicine, cites “staggering, shocking” statistics to explain her focus on this specific subsection of the disease. White women who are diagnosed in the U.S. with endometrial cancer—the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs—have an 80 percent survival rate. Black women, by comparison, are 90 percent more likely to die after a diagnosis than their peers.

Since moving to Seattle in 2016, Doll has pulled this lesser-known uterine cancer out of obscurity and into a country-wide conversation about racial inequity in women’s health care. In 2017, she founded the Endometrial Cancer Action Network for African Americans, a national organization that empowers survivors and raises awareness for the disease. That outreach has covered quite the cultural spectrum. Doll’s been quoted in Mother Jones, mentioned on BET, and interviewed on Good Morning America. In September she began enrolling Seattle participants in her four-year, $6 million SISTER Study, which focuses on post-diagnosis social support and how it influences health outcomes. It’s the largest ever funded trial that focuses on Black women.

In her spare time—Doll insists such a thing exists—she has a podcast, runs her own career-coaching business for women of color in academic medicine, and peppers her 9,000 and counting Twitter followers’ feeds with a mix of motivational quotes and health equity messaging.

The research, the outreach, the pressure—it’s a lot, Doll says, but it’s worth it if it means adding a few more Black women to the proverbial room. “I think we miss out on a lot of ideas, especially from women of color, especially in institutionalized spaces, because there’s an automatic thought that there’s no way that all this will fit. Like, I can’t do all of this. And I just think part of what I want to do is be an example in a way. You can.”

David Baker

The Institute of Protein Design director earned a 2021 Breakthrough Prize for his design of synthetic proteins for experimental therapies. Icosavax, the Seattle biomedical company he cofounded, sent two next-gen Covid vaccine candidates to first phases of clinical trials this summer.

Trevor Bedford

This Fred Hutch computational virologist with a rock-star Twitter status (more than 378,000 followers) co-developed Nexstrain, an open-source project to track viral mutations (ahem, Delta). In September, he was named a literal “genius,” earning a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Helen Chu

Paging Hollywood. This infectious disease researcher became an early-pandemic hero when she defied the FDA and uncovered community spread of the novel coronavirus. Her work today centers on monitoring and detection with Covid testing programs at UW and a research partnership with Apple.

Larry Corey

“Global star” and “virology” aren’t often used at the same time, but they’ve frequently been sandwiched together to describe this former Fred Hutch director. Fauci’s BFF ran the operations hub for Covid-19 vaccine trials, drawing from his years investigating HIV shots. He’s still chasing that cure.

Ben Danielson

When the revered pediatrician resigned from Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic at the end of last year, it set off a seven-month investigation into Seattle Children’s, uncovering decades of racism and inequity at the hospital. Now at UW Medicine, he’s studying how to end youth incarceration in Washington by 2030.

Jeff Duchin

Sure, you can quantify the King County public health officer’s power in the form of vaccination requirements and masking orders, but why not in prolific health PSAs on Twitter? His increasingly terrifying metaphors (“Covid-19 is a viral wildfire and we are the fuel”) certainly get the message across.

Image: Daryn Ray

Abigail Echo-Hawk

During the onslaught of Gabby Petito coverage this September, some observers pointed out that disappearances of Native women never receive such attention. That’s old news for this member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and director of the Urban Indian Health Institute. She’s led multiple studies on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Washington, highlighting underreporting by law enforcement and media bias.

Hilary Franz

If it weren’t for Covid, the state’s most existential threat of late would be the hundreds of thousands of acres blazing every summer. Luckily Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands has remained focused on combating wildfires stoked by global warming, even closing state lands when necessary. Her 10-year strategic plan boosted firefighter numbers and training just in time for the apocalyptic burns of 2020.

Jamal Raad

When Jay Inslee’s presidential bid ended, he forged ahead with his former boss’s signature platform, cofounding the climate change advocacy nonprofit Evergreen Action. Alums in the Biden administration ensure the organization will shape our environmental future.

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