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