Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment

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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).

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