Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment

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Canary forges partnership with University of Calgary

April 12, 2018

Canary Foundation’s new partnership with the University of Calgary in Canada took shape recently with the announcement of four early cancer detection seed grants.

The seed grants are funded by Canary Foundation and the Charbonneau Cancer Institute at the University of Calgary. Recipients of the grants come from across the University of Calgary in the Cumming School of Medicine, Schulich School of Engineering and Faculty of Science.

The work of the recipients will focus on early detection of bladder, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

Learn more about the teams selected for funding.

Canary remembers innovator and imaging expert Juergen Willmann

February 15, 2018

Juergen Willmann, MD, a professor of radiology at Stanford and a member of the Canary Foundation pancreatic team, died Jan. 8 in a car accident in Palo Alto.

Willmann was known for developing an imaging tool called targeted contrast microbubbles that, in combination with ultrasound, could be used to detect early tumors and target the delivery of drugs. Over the course of a decade, his lab at Stanford advanced the microbubble work from testing in animals all the way to the first clinical imaging trials in humans.

Here, some of Willmann’s closest colleagues share their feelings about his work, passion and the impact he had on the field of cancer early detection.

 

“I have been working closely with Juergen for more than a decade on the early detection of pancreatic cancer. We first met at a Canary Foundation conference at Stanford, where I had been asked to lead the Pancreas Cancer Early Detection Team. Juergen was just starting his career in radiology and had a strong background in engineering and cancer science. I had been working on biomarkers of pancreatic cancer using proteomic technology. We realized we could create an early detection test using microbubble technology and endoscopic ultrasound or abdominal ultrasound, if we could create a microbubble target that would be unique to pancreatic cancer and pre-cancer vasculature. … My lab spent the next 5 years finding and validating the target. … Together, with Juergen’s lab we were able to document the target was present in human tissue and then Juergen was able to demonstrate the feasibility of using microbubbles to detect very small pancreatic cancers in mouse models. After this decade of work, our next efforts were to move this into the clinical realm, with Juergen taking the lead on this part of the endeavor. Juergen was passionate about pancreatic cancer and early detection. He was a brilliant scientist, dedicated, and innovative.  He will be deeply missed not only by his colleagues, but by the pancreatic cancer community as a whole.  Ultimately, I hope that his collaborative work will remain a foundation for continued research in earlier detection of pancreatic cancer.”

Teri Brentnall, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, University of Washington
Pancreatic Team Leader, Canary Foundation

 

“Juergen was committed to helping advance the field of early cancer diagnostics. His work on using ultrasound imaging with targeted microbubbles will continue to have an impact for many years to come. His passion and optimism will be sorely missed. I will miss him dearly but know his contributions to biomedical science will live on.”

Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, M.D., Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Radiology
Director, Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection
Stanford University School of Medicine

 

“A year ago I received an unexpected phone call from Dr. Juergen Willmann asking me to work with his team at the Canary Center at Stanford to make medical ultrasound more sensitive for early detection of cancer. Working closely with Juergen to adapt technologies Draper had originally developed for finding tiny hidden features in satellite images to instead seek out microscopic bubbles within cancer tumors turned out to be one of the best experiences I have ever had. His vision for enabling early cancer detection without using radiation, and his passion for collaborating with engineers like myself to pull it off, provided a sense of excitement and joy that inspired, and will continue to inspire, many of us to follow his lead until these technologies are used to help patients every day.”

Andrew A. Berlin, Ph.D.
Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff
Draper

Canary funds four collaborative studies that pair faculty at Stanford with faculty at the University of Cambridge

Cancer early detection researchers develop future collaborations on a punting excursion in Cambridge, UK in September 2017.

Canary Foundation was ahead of the cancer early detection wave when it started in 2004. Since then, academic institutions, such as the University of Cambridge in the UK and the University of Calgary in Canada, have looked to Canary for advice as they build out their own cancer early detection programs.

This year, one such collaboration is taking shape in dynamic ways. Canary’s partnership with the University of Cambridge has resulted in four promising studies that partner researchers from Cambridge with researchers from Stanford. These projects, jointly funded by Canary Foundation and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, will explore innovative ways to detect prostate, lung, esophageal and renal cancers at an early stage.

In order to receive seed grants for these projects, applications had to include faculty at both Stanford and Cambridge. By fostering this transatlantic collaboration, Canary hopes to bring outstanding academic and clinical researchers from the US and UK together to tackle some of the most challenging questions in detecting cancer sooner.

The awards were announced at Cambridge’s third annual early detection symposium on January 15. You can read more about these collaborations below or by watching the video.

“A multi-modal approach to discover novel blood-based biomarkers for early detection of poor prognosis prostate cancer”

Tanya Stoyanova, an assistant professor of radiology at the Canary Center, is partnering with Vincent Gnanpragasam, an urologist at Cambridge University Hospitals, to identify different types of tumors in men with prostate cancer. The goal is to distinguish between aggressive tumors that would require immediate treatment, and slow-growing tumors that may not need treatment immediately but could be monitored closely so that any changes in the tumor can be picked up and acted upon. Their project will use data from a number of sources including tumor DNA found circulating in the blood, protein molecules found in cancer cells, and MRI imaging of the tumor.

“Early cancer detection through transcriptomic analysis of host immune cells”

Tom Soh, a professor of radiology at the Canary Center, is exploring new ways to detect early-stage lung cancer through his partnership with Robert Rintoul, a thoracic consultant at Cambridge University Hospitals. The pair is studying the immune cells in blood samples to see if there are particular signals that could be used to identify lung cancer early.

“Levitating a sponge for the early detection of Esophageal Adenocarcinoma”

 Utkan Demirci, a professor of radiology at the Canary Center, is working with Rebecca Fitzgerald, Cambridge’s early detection program co-lead, to detect early signs of esophageal cancer. They will use a new nanotechnology developed by Demirci that separates different types of cells using a magnetic field. The technology will be applied to the mixture of cells collected from patients that are given a Cytosponge test developed by Fitzgerald that can diagnose Barrett’s esophagus – a common condition that, in some cases, develops into esophageal cancer.

 “Early detection of renal cell carcinoma using DNA methylation markers in urine”

Olivier Gevaert, an assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical data science at Stanford, and John Leppert, an associate professor of urology at Stanford, are teaming up with Charlie Massie, a group leader in Cambridge’s early detection program. They will study whether it is possible to detect the early stages of a type of kidney cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma) using biomarkers found in urine. Their research will look at specific signals in the DNA cells called methylation.

Lung Cancer Biomarker Discovered by Canary Researchers Attracts New Interest From Academia and Industry

November 14, 2017

Team lead Dr. Samir Hanash discusses biomarker SFTPB’s journey from discovery to commercialization

Searching for a needle in a haystack. That’s how Dr. Samir Hanash described the long, intensive process of finding a blood-based biomarker to detect lung cancer. So, when the Canary Lung Cancer Team, with Hanash at the helm, discovered a promising candidate called pro surfactant protein b (SFTPB), the potential impact was tremendous, especially since there has been only one other similar discovery to date.

Early validation studies of SFTPB have been so promising that multiple parties – among them The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and tech startup MagArray – have entered into negotiations with Canary Foundation to do further testing.

As part of a comprehensive lung cancer screening process, SFTPB has the potential to address shortcomings like false positives on CT scans as well as more accurately identify who should be screened and predict how frequently the person should be monitored.

Dr. Hanash recently discussed the discovery of biomarker SFTPB and its potential in a conversation with Canary Foundation that can be read below.

Canary Foundation: Can you explain the current state of lung cancer screening and why it is important to add biomarkers into the process?

Dr. Samir Hanash: The uptake of lung cancer screening with low dose CT has been quite modest in the U.S. and not at all in European countries. Blood-based biomarkers to determine the need for CT would represent a paradigm shift.

CF: When did your search for a lung blood biomarker begin?

SH: It began more than 15 years ago when I was at the University of Michigan.

CF: What makes it so difficult to pinpoint promising lung cancer biomarkers?

SH: Tremendous disease heterogeneity (diversity), limited availability of most informative samples for early detection, the need for in-depth high sensitivity methodology to find the needle in the haystack.

CF: At what point in the process did SFTPB emerge as a potential biomarker candidate?

SH: It emerged when we integrated data from mouse models of lung cancer with human data and lung cancer cell line data.

CF: What qualities does SFTPB have that led you to focus on it?

SH: We have subjected it to a multitude of blinded validation studies, and it came out significant for discriminating between lung cancer and controls.

CF: Validation studies of SFTPB have been very promising. What do these studies reveal in terms of the biomarker’s potential?

SH: That as part of a broader panel of biomarkers for lung cancer, it can be an effective tool for lung cancer screening.

CF: Now other groups are interested in further testing SFTPB and Canary Foundation has developed a licensing agreement to facilitate this. Why is additional testing necessary and what are the potential outcomes?

SH: There are many clinical indications related to lung cancer for which SFTPB may or may not be useful.

CF: If further studies of SFTPB continue to produce promising results, what are the next steps? How long could it be before SFTPB is used in lung cancer screening?

SH: That depends on performance in the most rigorous validation studies that meet FDA requirements.

Samir M. Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. We thank him for his insights.

Early Cancer Detection Initiative joins Canary Foundation Flock

October 24, 2017

University of Calgary cancer researchers to collaborate with top funding group

The Canary Foundation is now backing research at the University of Calgary. From left: Jon Meddings, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine; Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary; Don Listwin, founder and CEO of the Canary Foundation; Tina Rinker, lead, Early Cancer Detection Initiative; Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering. Photo by Pauline Zulueta

When you learn Don Listwin has an engineering degree, it all makes perfect sense.

The man who started the Canary Foundation, the world’s leading non-profit funding agency for early-detection cancer research, is looking to defeat the disease the way an engineer would. His strategy: prevent the problem before it starts, rather than trying to fix it after disaster has struck.

“Early detection of cancer means confronting the disease when it is most treatable and chances for full recovery are greatest,” explains Listwin, founder and chairman of the Canary Foundation, and an electrical engineering graduate. “By focusing our efforts on research dealing with early detection and pre-emptive testing, we are finding and fighting cancer when it is most vulnerable and easiest to defeat.”

This week, the Early Cancer Detection Initiative at the University of Calgary officially joins the esteemed list of research programs backed by the Canary Foundation. Since 2004, the foundation has helped fund a select group of collaborative laboratories, starting with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The University of Calgary joins the Canary Center at Stanford; the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas; Cancer Research U.K.; and OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, Ore. on the short list of Canary Foundation collaborators.

For Listwin, cancer is a very personal adversary. Having lost his mother to misdiagnosed late-stage ovarian cancer and watched his father fight colon cancer, the Canadian technology mogul decided to do something about it.

Having previously climbed to the near-pinnacle of his chosen industry — Listwin was CEO of Openwave Systems and had been the number two executive at Cisco Systems — he took on cancer with the same drive and determination, launching the Canary Foundation.

Listwin says early-detection research like that taking place at UCalgary is key to ensuring victims become survivors. “The work taking place here in Calgary on diagnostic tools that will allow for early detection of high-mortality, treatment-resistant cancers is vital to our goal,” he says. “We are proud and enthused to be supporting the University of Calgary’s Early Cancer Detection Initiative.”

A partnership established by the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute between the Schulich School of Engineering, the Cumming School of Medicine, and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the pan-university Early Cancer Detection Initiative’s mission is three-fold. Namely to develop strategies and methods for non-invasive earlier detection of cancer, discover better ways to predict the behaviour of individual cancers, and accelerate the development of new commercially viable cancer detection tests and technologies.

Led by bioengineering professor Kristina Rinker, PhD, the Early Cancer Detection Initiative team, including medical oncologist Dr. Don Morris and surgical oncologist Dr. Oliver Bathe of the Charbonneau Cancer Institute and the Department of Oncology, aims to engage with researchers across campus.

The goal is to advance cancer detection technology development through providing funding opportunities, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, and building connections to local and international mentors, researchers, and resources. Researchers are currently investigating new ways of detecting those at risk of developing cancer, through blood tests for detecting early disease, body fluid analysis, and technologies to detect metastatic cancer, among other key projects.

Rinker is director of the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education, and associate professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the CSM and member of the Charbonneau Cancer Institute. She says the Canary Foundation’s support is a significant boost to the research taking place in Calgary, and it places the university in a position to work and collaborate with the world’s best.

“We are very excited to join the dedicated international team of researchers in the Canary network to detect cancer earlier and open doors to stopping or even reversing cancer progression,” explains Rinker.

The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy is focused on developing solutions for pressing health challenges in disease and injury prevention, diagnosis and treatments. Researchers are applying systems engineering principles to continuously improve the health system.

This article by Michael Platt originally appeared on the University of Calgary website (www.ucalgary.ca).

Canary Foundation Awards Gift to Draper to Improve Cancer Detection, Hasten Treatment

November 21, 2016

Draper offers world-class engineering solutions to philanthropic community

Cancer kills more than 595,000 Americans annually. The Canary Foundation recently presented a gift to Draper to apply its expertise in computer vision techniques to address fundamental limitations of today’s cancer detection tools.

Advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans have helped clinicians identify cancer faster than ever before. However, these tools often require optimal conditions without which cancer tissue can be missed.

“The Canary gift funds a two-year exploration of combining Draper’s expertise in the miniaturization of systems that blend optical sensing and spatial reasoning with vision-based navigation and satellite image enhancement, and applying them to medical imaging,” explained Andrew Berlin, distinguished member of the technical staff at Draper.

If successful, Berlin believes advances in computer vision techniques could help break through the noise created by less than optimal imaging conditions — confounding signals.

“Confounding signals are those that introduce features that are difficult to see through,” explained Berlin. “For example, an imager may be able to detect a signal from a cancer cell, but a lot of times that signal is confounded by signals from other parts of the body, such as bones. The signals are mixed together within a single pixel. Our goal is to use computer vision to tease apart these different features, figuring out for each point in an image, how much of the signal is due to a feature of interest, such as a cancer cell, and how much is due to other sources.”

About Draper

As an independent not-for-profit engineering research and development company, Draper focuses on the design, development and deployment of advanced technological solutions for the world’s most challenging and important problems. It provides engineering solutions directly to government, industry, and academia; work on teams as prime contractor or subcontractor; and participate as a collaborator in consortia. Draper provides unbiased assessments of technology or systems designed or recommended by other organizations — custom designed, as well as commercial-off-the-shelf.

 

San Jose Earthquakes and Avaya Partner Up to Support Canary

August 25, 2016

This moIMG_1081nth, employees from the Canary Foundation, Avaya, and the San Jose Earthquakes all came together to work on painting and decorating a fun and colorful playhouse!

IMG_1001The awesome finished product will be raffled off at upcoming San Jose Earthquakes home games in the Avaya Stadium. Raffle tickets can be purchased from the Canary Center booth before and during the games, which are on 8/24, 9/3, 9/10, 9/24, and 10/1.  At the Oct. 1 game, the lucky winner will be announced!  All proceeds from the raffle will go towards the Canary Challenge and, in turn, the Canary Foundation and its early cancer detection research and development.

 

 

Whole Foods Market Chooses Canary Foundation

July 6, 2016

This quarter, the Whole Foods Market in Palo Alto has selected the Canary Foundation as its recipient for the Nickels for Nonprofits program. When a Whole Foods customer brings their own reusable bags to the cash register, they receive a 5-cent credit. This philanthropic program, cleverly created by Whole image001Foods Market, gives customers the choice to either take his/her 5-cent credit or to donate tothe benefiting charity of the quarter. The Whole Foods Market, found at 774
Emerson Street in Palo Alto, has decided to take a stand for early cancer detection research and to serve the scientific community devoted to the cause. Canary Foundation staff will be going to the store to represent the Foundation and our purpose. The Canary Foundation will be the beneficiary of this program for the rest of the third quarter, ending Sept. 25.

Cycling for Canary – one rider’s drive

June 13, 2016

Nitish Amin is a 3-time Canary Challenge participant and is currently gearing up for his fourth Challenge, riding with team Cisco. In this guest blog he reflects on his love of biking and passion for supporting cancer early detection.

Growing up in India, I biked everywhere, every day, as a child.

I grew up, as we all do, moved to the United States and set biking aside. However, three years ago, I started biking again.

Nitish3-768x457The first time I got on my Cannonade (that’s a really great bike, if you don’t know) something just felt right. I have that feeling when I get on the saddle every Sunday morning.

I see more when I’m on my bike than when I’m in a car. I usually take the roads and routes that I haven’t explored. It is an amazing hobby that allows me to slow down, even when I’m going 20+ miles per hour. I stop to talk to people. For the next few hours that I’m on my bike, it’s just me, nature, and my fellow biking enthusiasts. I am always amazed at how new many friends I make see when I’m riding. These friends I made, we call ourselves, “CRANK OF DAWN” because we like to ride early.

It’s the same during my 8+ years at Cisco, where I get to see how many great people I work with. I am a Software Technology Manager and while we’re all moving fast to innovate and to change the world, when we take a moment to slow down, enjoy what we do, we get to see a little more, take a few unexplored paths, and just talk to each other. We also have time to give back together.

I learned about the Canary Foundation through Cisco’s volunteer program. It is the non-profit organization dedicated solely to the funding, discovery and development of tests for early cancer detection. This photo of me is during a 50-mile ride for the Canary Challenge. I like that Cisco encourages us to give back in ways that are personal to us, and in our local communities.

My father started one of the first early cancer detection centers back in the 1970s in Gujarat, India. When I ride for Canary, I feel that sense of connection between where I am now, at Cisco, and where I came from, all while contributing to a worthy cause.

Canary Summit Brings Early Cancer Detection Researchers Together

May 10, 2016

mayerPhoto_212More than 100 members of Stanford University’s scientific community met Tuesday, May 4 at the University Club in Palo Alto. Although their backgrounds were different, they had one major thing in common: cancer early detection. The event – the first ever Canary Summit – allowed researchers to share their work in that field, which ranged from innovative early detection using molecular imaging and cancer biomarkers, to the development of new technologies and medical devices for detecting cancer in its most early stages.

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All those present were faculty and associates of the Canary Center at Stanford, a world-class facility dedicated to cancer early detection research programs. The Canary Foundation was instrumental in establishing the center and continues to fund it significantly.

At the Summit, the Canary Foundation awarded a $50,000 seed grant and committed to awarding $200,000 more in seed grants for attendees of the event to fund their research.

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Scientists were encouraged to create posters that illustrated the focus and findings of their early detection research, and attendees voted on the best posters.

Top poster winners were:

  • First Place: Intravascular magnetic enrichment of circulating tumor cells. Jessie Ge (presenting author). Authors: Tianjia J. Ge, Amin Aalipour, Ophir Vermesh and Sanjiv S. Gambhir.

  • Second Place: NFIB is a novel metastasis-specific biomarker of small cell lung cancer. Jessika Baral (presenting author). Authors: Jessika Baral, Dian Yang and Julien Sage.

  • Third Place: Label-free Magnetophoretic Isolation of Circulating Tumor Cells and Clusters from Blood. Jaeyoung Yang (presenting author). Authors: Jaeyoung Yang, N. Gozde Durmus, Hojae Lee, Baris D. Ercal, Ozlem Ercal, Huiping Zhang, Christian Hoerner, Alice C. Fan, Juergen K. Willmann, Ronald W. Davis, Lars Steinmetz and Utkan Demirci.

For more photos of the Canary Summit, visit our album on Facebook.

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