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Canary CREST Internship Program

August 6, 2018

Today we want to take the time to introduce you to the Canary Center’s Canary CREST internship program. The Canary CREST program pairs outstanding undergraduate students with a faculty member at the Canary Center at Stanford who then goes on to mentor them over the course of the summer. Interns work on their own personal research project with the guidance of their mentor and then present their work at the end of a summer in a poster competition held at the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection.

Over 200 undergraduates applied to the program, of which 27 outstanding applicants were accepted. Students come from universities located all over the country, with schools such as Yale, Stanford, Rice and an assortment of UC schools represented. This year’s class of interns are evenly divided between rising sophomores, juniors and seniors.

In addition to conducting research, the interns get the opportunity to participate in weekly classroom sessions where they learn about current research in the field of cancer early detection. They also get to participate in workshops where they hone their communication skills, are taught how to critically evaluate research, and learn about research ethics. Interns also have the opportunity to attend seminars on the Stanford campus where they get to hear from industry professionals who work for a range of companies from startups to large corporations. Interns are also given the chance to visit companies such as Verily, Google’s life sciences division.

Canary PASS

July 30, 2018

Canary Foundation has helped launch a new website devoted to PASS (Prostate Active Surveillance Study), our research study for men who have chosen active surveillance as a management plan for their prostate cancer.

The website includes the PASS Risk Calculator, a new tool designed to estimate the likelihood that a participant’s prostate cancer will become more aggressive and require treatment.

Canary Center Announces New Faculty Member

July 26, 2018

We are excited to announce that the Canary Center at Stanford will welcome a new faculty member this fall.

Danielle Engle, PhD, will join the center after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Her research focuses on the early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer. Specifically, Dr. Engle is interested in how aberrant glycosylation can serve as a functional biomarker and therapeutic target for pancreatic cancer. She will serve as an assistant professor in the Department of Radiology and will officially start on November 1, 2018.

New developments shape direction of Canary ovarian research program

July 11, 2018

In an effort to further the understanding of early-stage ovarian cancer and find potential ways to detect and treat it, Canary is collaborating with the BRCA Foundation on a new ovarian cancer initiative.

This initiative is being lead by Ronny Drapkin, MD, PhD, Director of the Penn Ovarian Research Center and Director of Gynecological Cancer Research at the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chuck Drescher, MD, a gynecological oncologist and research scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Director of Gynecological Research at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

Why Now?

While there have been advances in the treatment of ovarian cancer, the same can’t be said for the development of accurate methods for detecting ovarian cancer early. As a result, most cases are diagnosed once the disease has spread beyond the ovaries to other organs.

“The most common clinical tools for diagnosing ovarian cancer, CA-125 and TV sonography, are based on technologies that are more than 25 years old,” Drescher says. “We must do better.”

Fortunately, recent scientific developments are reorienting research toward early detection by shedding light not only on how ovarian cancer forms in the body, but where it forms. It is now known, for example, that a substantial number of cases traditionally referred to as ovarian cancer don’t originate in the ovaries at all. They begin in the fallopian tubes, the structure immediately adjacent to the ovary.

“There’s been tremendous progress in our understanding of ovarian cancer in the last 5 to 10 years, and it is that progress that is serving as the basis for this new Canary initiative,” Drapkin says.

Watch the video below to learn more about these new developments in ovarian cancer.

About the initiative

“Our plan is to put together a multi-disciplinary team of 20 to 30 preeminent ovarian cancer research scientists,” explains Drescher, “and provide financial resources and access to the critical specimens, samples and patients that are necessary to do the types of research we are planning.”

In order to accomplish this, Drescher, Drapkin and other co-leaders are putting together an advisory committee that will meet for the first time this fall. The group has several goals it hopes to achieve within the next year.

The first is to identify four or five clinical centers nationwide that are ready to participate in the program. These centers will be selected based on their expertise in ovarian early detection research, their ability to reach out to patients at high risk, and their ability to contribute to the development of next generation early detection tests.

Another goal includes establishing a “bio bank” that will include tissue, blood and other samples from women with very rare, very early forms of ovarian cancer that could be used in future studies.

“It is our vision to create a self-sustaining network of talented clinicians and researchers with access to critical clinical samples and patients and the infrastructure to do collaborative research,” Drescher says. “We believe it is the best path forward to getting new tests to women and saving lives from ovarian cancer.”

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.

 

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