Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment

FHCRC

Early Cancer Detection Research at the HUTCH

After the death of Grace Listwin in 2001, her son Don set out to find a research institution that focused on the early detection of ovarian cancer. The search led to a researcher by the name of Dr. Nicole Urban located in Seattle at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC). Initial meetings focused on the idea of blood biomarkers, proteins that are uniquely created by cancer, which would be circulating in the blood and detectable in early disease.

Don funded Nicole’s work for two years and during that time developed a relationship with Dr. Lee Hartwell, the FHCRC Center Director and Nobel Prize recipient. The two discussed a bigger center-wide initiative and subsequently agreed to build a Cancer Early Detection Center of Excellence (COE) inside FHCRC. Early on, faculty were recruited with experience in proteomics—the search for proteins—and program management was put in place and many other FHCRC researchers with interest in early cancer detection joined the initiative. Jointly, the Listwin Family Foundation and Canary Foundation have invested approximately $20 million in this center. It is estimated by the Hutch that over $100 million in additional government funding has been awarded to these scientists for early cancer research over the past decade. The Hutch remains a key part of the Canary Project and is home to two Canary program team leaders.

Dr. Jason Bielas is in the process of developing a number of technologies that are extremely sensitive to mutagenesis in order to find changes in DNA that indicate the presence of cancer.

Discovering Biomarkers

Researchers at FHCRC are looking for ways to detect cancer at its earliest stages, when a patient’s chances of survival are greatest. One of the keys to this effort is the discovery of biomarkers—proteins and other molecules that indicate the presence of disease.

In addition to leading an international project to discover new cancer biomarkers, FHCRC investigators:

  • Pursue breakthrough blood tests that could improve early detection of breast cancer.
  • Discover new proteins that signal lung cancer’s emergence and develop tests that can detect lung cancer long before symptoms appear.
  • Reveal genetic mutations that illuminate why some prostate cancers are lethal and identify variants associated with drug-resistant prostate cancer. These discoveries could improve early detection and determine who needs aggressive treatment.
  • Pursue breakthrough genetic tests for colon cancer, with hopes of identifying it at the earliest possible moment.

Recruited by Don Listwin from the very inception of Canary, Nicole Urban, Sc.D, is involved in research using human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) and carbohydrate antigen 125 (CA125) to try and detect ovarian cancer early in high-risk women.