Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment


The Stanford Dish and Cancer Detection Connection

July 18, 2012

Co- authored by Abbie Lieberman.

Most of us who live or spend time on the San Francisco peninsula are familiar with the Stanford dish. The Dish, visible off interstate 280 near the Alpine Road exit, was built in 1966 by the Stanford Research Institute and spans 150 feet in diameter. The United States Air Force originally funded the project to study the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Its role has changed over the years, but the Dish is still actively used to conduct an array of research. In his book, The End of Medicine (Collins, 2006) author Andy Kessler, a Silicon Valley local, mentions the Stanford Dish as he explored advances in medical technology that he hopes will fundamentally change the way our health care system works. He stumbles upon an intriguing relationship between the dish and cancer research.

Students, families and professionals walk and jog around the Dish on the paved trail, catching sweeping views of the rolling hills of Palo Alto, Stanford and Portola Valley. While hiking the Dish at Stanford, Kessler overheard people complaining about plans to shut down the Bracewell Observatory, located right down the hill from the main dish. After digging a little deeper, Kessler learned that back in the 1950’s Professor Ronald N. Bracewell created an algorithm when working with these satellite dishes that was later used to create the first CT scans!

This algorithm radically changed the field of radiology and played an important role in cancer detection. Quite a jump from satellite technology probing the earth’s atmosphere to scanning the body! The Stanford Dish is a perfect example of what Kessler discovered – that great innovations in medical technology are happening right here in Palo Alto and have been for longer than one might think. Like Kessler, Canary knows the importance of such leaps and fosters an environment that spurs innovations.

Canary Foundation is focusing on newer technologies that also have the potential to scale. Our goal is to test for cancer through a simple blood test, and we are making a great deal of progress.  With molecular imaging technology, we will be able to pinpoint the location of tumors when they are very small.

Kessler went on to meet with Canary’s Founder Don Listwin and Dr. Sam Gambhir, currently the Chair of Radiology at Stanford University and Canary Center Director (at the time, Sam was head of molecular imaging and a Canary Science Team member). Canary’s mission and work inspired Kessler.  He considered his second visit to Gambhir’s lab one of his “eureka moments” when a technician showed him how molecules hone in on a small tumor and light up, revealing its location.

Next time you jog or drive by the Dish, think about the life-changing advances in medical technology happening right here in our backyard!

This blog was co-authored by Therese Quinlan, Senior Development Director, and Abbie Lieberman, Development Intern.