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Early Detection of Cancer Annual Conference- EDx21 – hosted by Cancer Research UK, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and the Canary Center at Stanford brought together the brightest minds in cancer early detection research!!
November 29, 2021
Highlighted excerpts of the conference include:
• Phil Jones, Ph.D., from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, showed how emerging tumors can be driven to extinction by competing clonal populations of cells.
• Irene Ghobrial, M.D., from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also focused on the precursor states, asking whether well-timed interventions can stop the advance to multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cell cancer.
• Minetta Liu, M.D., from Mayo Clinic, gave a whirlwind review of data from several companies readying multicancer, early-detection blood test for broad use, an indicator of the potential for rapid changes in screening practices.
• Mark Emberton, M.D., from University College London, asserted that blood tests will only ever serve as a triage tool for selecting patients for more informative imaging tests.
• Rebecca Fitzgerald, M.D., received the Don Listwin Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cancer Early Detection. She’s known for the development of the Cytosponge, which patients can swallow instead of undergoing an endoscopy.
• Shan Xiang Wang, Ph.D., from Stanford University, highlighted the advantages of giant magnetoresistive (GMR) sensors to look for cancer mutations in circulating DNA, such as EGFR in lung cancer. GMR is more sensitive than fluorescent PCR assays.
• Stephen Friend, M.D., Ph.D., from Oxford University, described studies underway collecting semi-continuous measurements via smartphone, smart ring and smart wristwatch.
• Daniel Heller, Ph.D., at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has developed sensors that can be placed inside the uterine cavity, like an IUD, to detect protein biomarkers of ovarian cancer that take too long to show up in blood.
• Hannah Brewer, Ph.D., from Imperial College London, gave an update on the Cancer Loyalty Card Study, which is tracking changes in medication purchases that could signal early signs of ovarian cancer.
• Aaron Grossberg, M.D., Ph.D., from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, asserted that single cells can’t tell the story without the context of what’s going on around them. Organisms have evolved to respond to localized threats in ways that change systemic physiology.
• Peter Kuhn, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California, countered that the single cell holds the necessary information, you just need to find the right cell, the needle in the haystack. It is not necessarily the cell that is a cancer cell, it could be a non-cancer cell that is indicative of the cancer.
• Stacey Fedewa, Ph.D., from the American Cancer Society, contrasted cancer screening among women in the United Kingdom, which provides healthcare to all permanent residents, and the United States, where many go uninsured and cancer screening is opportunistic and not organized with coordinated outreach. But in both countries, only about 4 in 10 women were up to date on cervical, breast and colorectal screenings, and 1 in 10 women in both countries said they received no cancer screening.
• Livia Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., from Centro di Riferimento per l’Epidemiologia e la Prevenzione Oncologica, , made clear the challenges of communication in cancer screening efforts. While it’s important to convey knowledge, inform risk perception to help people make choices that fit their values, Giordano said information is not enough. Communicators must consider emotions and trust.
• Robert Winn, M.D., from VCU Massey Cancer Center, illustrated how in the real world, the introduction of new technologies can create new health disparities, and for too long, medicine has avoided directly addressing the social determinants of health.
• Spencer Robinson, Ph.D., from York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, on a rapid diagnostic service that aims to give a single point of access to diagnosis for all patients who have serious nonspecific symptoms.
• Benjamin Ebert, M.D., Ph.D., from Harvard University, is finding ways to understand the risk of cancer in people with somatic mutations in blood cells, which are extraordinarily common.
• Hans Clevers, M.D., Ph.D., from the Hubrecht Institute, detailed the first patient-derived organoid model for cervical cancer.
• Thea Tlsty, Ph.D., from the University of California San Francisco, detailed efforts using bioengineered culture systems to reveal CAF signaling pathways that could be targeted for therapy or early detection.
• Carolyn Schutt Ibsen, Ph.D., from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, has developed a way to simulate, in an in vitro 3D model, the localized oncogene expression found in early-stage cancers.
• Panel discussion – Existing cancer therapies have largely been developed to treat advanced tumors. The panel discussed new therapeutic strategies that will be needed for people diagnosed with very early cancers or pre-cancerous lesions.
• Bissan Al-Lazikani, Ph.D., Institute of Cancer Research/MD Anderson Cancer Center, Early detection faces a signal-to-noise ratio problem that can only be solved by machine and massive, multimodal data mined by AI is the only way we’ll truly unravel the complexity of cancer early detection.
• Xin Lu, FRS F.Med.Sci., with Ludwig Cancer Research and the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection, countered that AI-generated results lack meaning if they can’t be explained by a scientific hypothesis.
The Early Detection of Cancer Conference- EDx21, hosted by: Cancer Research UK, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute & Canary Center at Stanford.
Full daily recap from: Joe Rojas-Burke, Science Writer, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
Henry Scowcroft, a longtime science writer with Cancer Research UK, gained a shattering new perspective on the disease when his partner Zarah was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer at age 36. Scowcroft’s recently published memoir of the caregiving experience is interspersed with details of his science-minded effort to understand the disease that took his partner’s life. In the keynote talk, Scowcroft said he was driven to create something that would help others facing cancer, particularly those not privileged with medical knowledge and expert contacts. Caring for Zarah sensitized him to the burden of tests and treatments on cancer patients. He exhorted researchers to always include a focus on making a difference to the lived experience of people with cancer.
When and where detection matters
Cells with cancer-associated mutations become increasingly common with advancing age, but few ever give rise to invasive tumors. Why not? Phil Jones, Ph.D., at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, showed how emerging tumors can be driven to extinction by competing clonal populations of cells. In studies using mouse esophageal epithelium as a model, it was this competition that eliminated incipient tumors, not immune defenses. With deeper understanding, Jones said it could be possible to manipulate this competition of clones to stop cancer.
Irene Ghobrial, M.D., from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also focused on the precursor states, asking whether well-timed interventions can stop the advance to multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cell cancer. Ghobrial is principal investigator of the PROMISE Study, the first to screen healthy people at risk for precursor conditions of multiple myeloma, including monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance and smoldering multiple myeloma. The study aims to uncover why some patients progress to myeloma and others do not – and inform the development of screening and preventive treatment strategies. In earlier work, her group identified genetic alterations in smoldering multiple myeloma that could distinguish patients at high risk of progression to multiple myeloma.
Breast cancers that emerge in young women within a few years after pregnancy are strikingly more dangerous. Pepper Schedin, Ph.D., with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, detailed how tumor cells are shaped by the postpartum environment to become more prone to metastasis. At the end of lactation, 80 to 90 percent of milk-secreting cells undergo programmed cell death, in a process called mammary gland involution. The early phase of gland involution resembles an acute inflammatory response that subsides and is followed by an immune response similar to what happens during wound healing. Schedin said mammary gland involution is an informative model for studying how factors outside of tumor cells drive cancer development.
In the first lightning talk of the conference, Daniel Muñoz-Espin, Ph.D., from the University of Cambridge, explained how targeting senescent cells could be a way to prevent non-small cell lung cancer progression in people presenting with multifocal primary lesions in their lungs. Such lesions pose a treatment conundrum: most will progress to invasive cancer and there is no good way to stop them. Muñoz said accumulation of senescent cells is a common feature. In a mouse model, drug ablation of senescent cells decreased lung tumor burden and increased survival. In some of the mice, the treatment prevented cancer initiation.
Great debate: Blood is the only detection medium that matters
Minetta Liu, M.D., from Mayo Clinic, made the case for blood – an unpopular position going into the debate with the audience poll showing more than 90% disagreeing. Liu pointed out that existing modalities only screen for a few types of cancer. And some, like colonoscopy, are significantly invasive. Staying on schedule with all the separate screening tests is cumbersome for practitioners and, more importantly, burdensome for patients. Blood-based screening, in contrast, involves a point-of-care blood draw to screen for multiple cancers at once. Results so far suggest blood-based tests are pretty good at identifying the tissue of tumor origin to guide follow-up. Liu gave a whirlwind review of data from several companies readying multicancer, early-detection blood test for broad use, an indicator of the potential for rapid changes in screening practices.
Arguing the contrary, Mark Emberton, M.D., from University College London, asserted that blood tests will only ever serve as a triage tool for selecting patients for more informative imaging tests. He said imaging more reliably delivers consistent results while blood test findings can vary considerably from day to day. He said imaging captures a range of attributes – location, volume, morphology, and more – that can’t be derived from a blood test. And imaging, he said, seems to land at a point in tumor development when cancers have the clear potential to become dangerous, while blood tests might detect too many indolent, non-threatening cases invisible on imaging scans. In the end, Liu swayed 19% to her side while support for Emberton’s position dropped to 81%.
Rebecca Fitzgerald, M.D., received the Don Listwin Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cancer Early Detection. She’s known for the development of the Cytosponge, which patients can swallow instead of undergoing an endoscopy. Fitzgerald and her team published work showing the device can increase by 10-fold the identification of Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer, compared to standard of care. Fitzgerald talked about the power of collaboration, taking risks and the rise of early detection as a hot topic for researchers in an interview with Cancer Research UK.
Presentations kicked off with a session on emerging technologies for detecting and interpreting early signals of cancer. Stanford University’s Shan Xiang Wang, Ph.D., highlighted the advantages of giant magnetoresistive (GMR) sensors to look for cancer mutations in circulating DNA, such as EGFR in lung cancer. GMR is more sensitive than fluorescent PCR assays – and less costly, he said. And GMR can show responses to therapy within two weeks, while CT imaging can take two months or more. Wang’s team is also using GMR to find methylated DNA targets in the blood as a way to detect liver cancer in patients with liver cirrhosis, which produces methylation signatures that are difficult to distinguish from cancer.
Can smartphones and wearables help triage the use of expensive and more invasive tools for cancer early detection? Stephen Friend, M.D., Ph.D., from Oxford University, described studies underway with the nonprofit 4YouandMe. Researchers will collect semi-continuous measurements via smartphone, smart ring and smart wristwatch. They will retrospectively analyze relative changes of multi-modal data streams among those who did and did not demonstrate new tumor growth.
Most ovarian cancers are detected dangerously late. Daniel Heller, Ph.D., at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has developed sensors that can be placed inside the uterine cavity, like an IUD, to detect protein biomarkers of ovarian cancer that take too long to show up in blood. In mouse models of ovarian cancer, the carbon nanotube based optical sensors were stable for at least a month after implantation and reliably detected HE4 protein.
In lightning talk, Hannah Brewer, Ph.D., from Imperial College London, gave an update on the Cancer Loyalty Card Study, which is tracking changes in medication purchases that could signal early signs of ovarian cancer. Her team has recruited 117 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer (cases) and 420 women without ovarian cancer (controls). Comparison of loyalty card data of cases and controls has revealed an increase in purchases of pain and indigestion medications prior to diagnosis, suggesting it might be feasible to use such data to prompt medical screening.
Great Debate: Emergent properties of the ecosystem are how we’ll understand cancer; a focus on a single cancer cell’s biology is misguided
Single cells can’t tell the story without the context of what’s going on around them, asserted
Aaron Grossberg, M.D., Ph.D., from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Organisms have evolved to respond to localized threats in ways that change systemic physiology, he said. Given that the probability of a positive finding in cancer screening is every low, even if cancer is present, he said that bio-amplification of the signal may be an essential process for detecting cancer. And knowing the prevalence of cancer-associated mutations in non-cancerous tissues, the state of single cells may be misleading without also knowing the state of the microenvironment.
Peter Kuhn, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California, countered that the single cell holds the necessary information, you just need to find the right cell, the needle in the haystack. It is not necessarily the cell that is a cancer cell, it could be a non-cancer cell that is indicative of the cancer, he added. Kuhn changed a few minds; before the debate 75% agreed with Grossberg and 25% disagreed. After, 72% agreed and 28% disagreed.
Early detection in the real world
Starting the day’s final session, Stacey Fedewa, Ph.D., from the American Cancer Society, contrasted cancer screening among women in the United Kingdom, which provides healthcare to all permanent residents, and the United States, where many go uninsured and cancer screening is opportunistic and not organized with coordinated outreach. But in both countries, only about 4 in 10 women were up to date on cervical, breast and colorectal screenings, and 1 in 10 women in both countries said they received no cancer screening.
Livia Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., from Centro di Riferimento per l”Epidemiologia e la Prevenzione Oncologica, made clear the challenges of communication in cancer screening efforts. It is essential to maximize informed choice to participate but also informed choice not to participate in screening, just as it is essential to minimize disinformed participation in addition to minimizing involuntary non-participation. While it’s important to convey knowledge, inform risk perception to help people make choices that fit their values, Giordano said information is not enough. Communicators must consider emotions and trust.
In the real world, the introduction of new technologies can create new health disparities, pointed out Robert Winn, M.D., of VCU Massey Cancer Center. He traced the history of Richmond, Virginia, to illustrate how generations of societal policies have marginalized populations to create health disparities, from segregationist real estate practices, to the concentration of polluting industries in poor neighborhoods. For too long, he said, medicine has avoided directly addressing the social determinants of health.
The day concluded with a lightning talk on a rapid diagnostic service presented by Spencer Robinson, Ph.D., from York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The service aims to give a single point of access to diagnosis for all patients who have serious nonspecific symptoms. General practitioners refer patients. A triage clinician determines those who will receive a default workup including a CT scan and a trans-nasal endoscopy. Robinson said 336 referrals have resulted in 27 cancer diagnoses, including, in order of prevalence, metastases of unknown origin, pancreatic tumors, gynecologic cancers and lymphomas.
Our final day started with a session on models and systems to inform detection. Harvard University’s Benjamin Ebert, M.D., Ph.D., is finding ways to understand the risk of cancer in people with somatic mutations in blood cells, which are extraordinarily common. Access to hundreds of thousands of exomes from peripheral blood is making it possible to trace the path from clonal hematopoesis of indeterminate potential to life-threatening cancer, and to identify events that signal escalating risk. Abnormal blood count is one such event.
Hans Clevers, M.D., Ph.D., at the Hubrecht Institute, detailed the first patient-derived organoid model for cervical cancer, developed in his lab by Kadi Lohmussaar, Ph.D. Ordinary Pap sampling provides enough starting material to grow either healthy organoids or cervical cancer tumoroids. The organoids reproduce gene expression patterns of the organ, as the tumoroids mimic the mutations, gene expression and histology of patient tumors.
Cancer associated fibroblasts, or CAFs, play a role in malignant initiation and progression. Thea Tlsty, Ph.D., from the University of California San Francisco, detailed efforts using bioengineered culture systems to reveal CAF signaling pathways that could be targeted for therapy or early detection. In an air-liquid interface culture system, bronchial epithelial cells grown alongside CAFs acquire squamous characteristics. Adding stress signaling triggers high-grade neoplasia. The next step will be to reproduce the development of full-on cancer.
The session closed with a lighting talk by Carolyn Schutt Ibsen, Ph.D., from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Her team has developed a way to simulate, in an in vitro 3D model, the localized oncogene expression found in early-stage cancers. The system uses lipid-monolayer gas-core microbubbles containing plasmid DNA. Directed ultrasound releases the plasmid DNA from the microbubbles so that only cells in ultrasound focal zone are transfected.
What do we do once we detect early?
Existing cancer therapies have largely been developed to treat advanced tumors. This panel of experts discussed the new therapeutic strategies that will be needed for people diagnosed with very early cancers or pre-cancerous lesions. Chair Charles Swanton, Ph.D., from the Francis Crick Institute/UCL, highlighted a daunting challenge: advances in early detection are revealing that some early-stage cancers can be as deadly as later stage disease. Tom Beer, M.D., at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, noted encouraging data suggesting that multi-cancer early detection blood tests might be better at detecting aggressive disease than indolent. Susan Galbraith, M.D., Ph.D., from AstraZeneca, highlighted the need for well tolerated therapies for patients diagnosed with early-stage disease. Avi Spira, M.D., with Johnson & Johnson said localized delivery of drugs could be one way to minimize toxicity. Usha Menon, M.D., University College London, expressed hope for linking screening trials with treatment trials; subjects found to have early disease could be randomized to trials of various treatments. All agreed that understanding the biology of early stage and pre-malignant disease will be critical to finding therapeutic targets for treating early cancers and intercepting pre-malignant disease with less toxic treatments.
Great debate: It’s time to give up on human hypothesis-driven research; massive, multimodal data mined by AI is the only way we’ll truly unravel the complexity of cancer early detection
Relying on hypothesis-driven research is like wandering through an infinite jungle hoping to stumble on the correct path, asserted Bissan Al-Lazikani, Ph.D., Institute of Cancer Research/MD Anderson Cancer Center. Early detection faces a signal-to-noise ratio problem, she said, that can only be solved by machine. She pointed to the development of BRAF inhibitors. BRAF emerged as a worthwhile target from computational analysis of massive amounts of DNA sequencing data, not from a scientist’s hypothesis about that particular signaling pathway.
Xin Lu, FRS F.Med.Sci., with Ludwig Cancer Research and the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection, countered that AI-generated results lack meaning if they can’t be explained by a scientific hypothesis. A machine learning algorithm may find complex patterns linked to early cancer, but without a hypothesis to explain them, it’s impossible to validate the truth, Lu said. And AI requires a starting point and training data to learn from, which Lu said requires a human-generated hypothesis about the way the world works.
Going in, 82% of the audience sided with Lu, and 18% with Al-Lazikani. After the debate, Lu’s support dropped to 54% and 46% agreed with Al-Lazikani.
It’s been a productive three days!
On behalf of Cancer Research UK, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and the Canary Center at Stanford, thank you for joining us for the 2021 Early Detection of Cancer Conference.
The Early Detection of Cancer Conference events team
Canary Foundation’s Ovarian Cancer Initiative: moving forward with matching specimen and imaging tissue in 3D
March 8, 2021
The Canary High Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer (HGSC) study is leveraging the expertise and resources of four institutions to study the microenvironmental factors that can lead fallopian tubes to develop this deadly type of ovarian cancer and thus provide a signal to alert for the presence of early disease. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the University of Pennsylvania, the Van Andel Institute in Michigan, and the University of California San Francisco have built the infrastructure to share fallopian tube specimens, experimental and clinical data, and analytical teams.
The small pilot study goals are to ask whether it is possible to compare women carrying the BRCA mutations (who are at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer) compared to those who do not carry the mutation and determine whether it is possible to find a measurable difference in the microenvironment.
Based on their first results, the team is selecting a larger set of specimens, matched for clinical factors and BRCA mutation status, and will conduct RNA, DNA and methylome sequencing. The group is also comparing competing platforms for imaging the tissue expression in 3D so that differences along the length of the tube can be evaluated and tested for correlations with the genetic data.
The International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) joins researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom in a $70 million partnership. Founded in 2019, ACED is a partnership with the Canary Center at Stanford University, CRUK, the University of Cambridge, the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), University College London and the University of Manchester. The following is one study chosen for it’s innovative approach to early detection:
Stratifying Risk for Early Detection in Hereditary Breast and Ovarian cancer
Project Award, led by: Marc Tischkowitz, University of Cambridge; Allison Kurian, Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection; and Gareth Evans, University of Manchester. Stanford Team: Allison Kurian, Alice Fan, James Ford
CanRisk is a cancer risk assessment tool which combines genetic, lifestyle, clinical and imaging data to calculate an individual risk estimate for women with high-risk mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2. The ability to provide personalized cancer risk estimates will identify women at particularly high risk. Currently, the ranges of cancer risk estimates for women with hereditary mutations in breast cancer genes are wide and not personalized, so all women are given the same figures. Creating a customized approach can solve this problem.
By implementing personalized risk estimates, early detection strategies can be tailored for the individual, therefore identifying those at the highest risk. Once feasibility is assessed, women undergoing predictive testing for BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2, ATM or CHEK2 in US and UK genetics centers will be randomized to conventional vs personalized risk estimate based on genetic/lifestyle/hormonal modifiers.
November 22, 2020
Dr. Joseph DeSimone
We welcome Professor Joseph M. DeSimone, PhD. in the position of the Sanjiv Sam Gambhir Professor in Translational Medicine. We are fortunate to have such creative and capable leadership as our work together in cancer early detection continues.
From the Stanford Press Release: The Stanford Department of Radiology is proud to announce Professor Joseph M. DeSimone as the inaugural Sanjiv Sam Gambhir Professor in Translational Medicine. A shining example of achievement, Joe has been described as “an igniter of innovation”. He has received international recognition as a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur, earning major accolades including the U.S. Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, the 2017 Heinz Award, and the Lemelson-MIT Prize. He is one of only 25 individuals elected to all three U.S. National Academies—the National Academy of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering. In 2016, President Obama presented him with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor in the U.S. for achievement and leadership in advancing technological progress. Read more here.
Joe and his lab have made significant scientific breakthroughs in science and medicine including next-generation approaches to cancer treatment and diagnosis, implantable drug delivery devices, green chemistry, and most recently in 3D printing technology for medical devices tailored to an individual patient’s needs. A dedicated educator and strong advocate for bringing a broader diversity of perspectives into research, he has mentored over 80 students through PhD completion at Univ. of North Carolina and North Carolina State Univ. (his former 30-year career), half of whom were women and members of underrepresented groups in STEM.
As an avid researcher and innovator, Joe has authored over 370 scientific publications with over 42,000 citations to his work, and is a named inventor on over 200 issued patents. Additionally, he brings a unique ability to transfer novel solutions from his lab to the world through the companies he co-founded.
Early Detection of Cancer Annual Conference – hosted by Cancer Research UK, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and the Canary Center at Stanford brought together the brightest minds in cancer research with a record 600 registrants!
October 26, 2020
Highlights of the conference include:
- DON LISTWIN AWARD for Outstanding Contribution to Cancer Early Detection was awarded posthumously to Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, Canary Center Director, an internationally recognized pioneer in molecular imaging who dedicated his career to developing methods of early disease detection.
- Jon Emery (University of Melbourne) Cancer screening intensity should be matched to an individual’s risk of getting cancer. He described efforts to use genetic testing to help patients make informed decisions on colorectal cancer screening.
- Amelie Lutz (Stanford University) is developing an ultrasound guided molecular imaging method for detecting ovarian cancer using microbubbles that target tumor angiogenesis. They’re focusing on whether the KDR labeled microbubbles actually detect the VEGFR2 expression in the tumor vasculature and whether the KDR bubbles can help to differentiate benign vs malignant (NIH grant work). Her talk highlighted how their team tackled the tricky part where the in vivo imaging has to be matched with the ex vivo histology, and how it required close communication between the imager, the surgeon and the pathologist. So far they have results from 7 patients, planning to go up to 50 (results matched in 6/7 cases).
- Stefano Avanzini (Stanford University) is using mathematical models to estimate the size tumors must reach to become detectable by tumor DNA circulating in blood.
- Parag Mallick (Stanford University) explained how tools such as saliency mapping are making it possible to understand how the machines reach their conclusions – building confidence and potentially revealing biological insights. He also showed examples of Artificial Intelligence tools for biomarker discovery that extract and create knowledge from massive, unstructured data sets.
- Cancer Research United Kingdom released an early detection road map, published in the Lancet (pdf): https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/early_detection_diagnosis_of_cancer_roadmap.pdf
- KEYNOTE TALK • Dinah S. Singer (National Cancer Institute) began with a rundown of the NCI’s response to COVID-19 pandemic, from virus-focused research initiatives to the ways the agency is flexing to support grantees. She concluded with an overview of the cancer early detection programs the agency has underway, such as the Early Detection Research Network (now focusing on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to integrate omic data to find biomarkers), and The Human Tumor Atlas Network (HTAN), a massive effort to map the complex ecosystems of cancer – and pave the way for advances in prevention, early detection and treatment.
Brief from The Early Detection of Cancer Conference #EDx2020 – recaps the entire conference, from their website: http://earlydetectionresearch.com October 6-8, 2020
Recapping day one
We’re glad you made it to the 2020 Early Detection of Cancer Conference. We’re looking forward to more eye-opening presentations, well-argued debates and networking opportunities. Before jumping back into it, here’s a quick recap of day one:
Caroline Dive (University of Manchester, CRUK Manchester Institute) brought us up to speed on efforts to improve lung cancer screening by combining CT imaging with a liquid biopsy. (Her team is running an observational cohort study to test whether blood biomarkers can detect lung cancer recurrence earlier than standard of care clinical surveillance.) The field has no shortage of potential biomarkers to choose from, including: circulating tumor cells, tumor DNA, RNA, and tumor educated platelets. Progress, Dive said, will hinge on a deeper understanding of early disease biology and pre-clinical models that more accurately represent the early stages of cancer.
To that end, Anton Berns (Netherlands Cancer Institute) highlighted the promise of autochthonous tumor models, that is, tumors induced in lab animals, in which it is possible to study early tumor formation in the presence of an intact immune system. With such models, researchers can switch particular oncogenes and tumor-suppressor genes on or off in a given tissue and compare cancer development. Berns said his team’s mouse models closely recapitulate the phenotype of human cancers including small cell lung cancer, and may help identify specific early biomarkers of dangerous tumors.
The first session closed with two lightning talks: Naoki Oshimori (OHSU Knight Cancer Institute) described how a mouse model of squamous cell carcinoma enabled his team’s discovery of a signaling loop between tumor-initiating cells and nearby non-cancer cells that generates the niche microenvironment that is required for invasive progression and drug resistance. Jennifer Munkley (Newcastle University Biosciences Institute) gave an update on the GlycoScore blood test for prostate cancer, which looks for specific glycans (sugars that attach to proteins, lipids, and other glycans on cells). Tested in more than 600 patient samples, a three-glycan test distinguished between benign tissue and prostate cancer with high sensitivity and specificity, she said.
Reflecting on COVID-19 The COVID-19 pandemic, as in all of medicine, has posed severe challenges for cancer screening. Participants in a special panel discussion called out opportunities the pandemic has created. When it became unfeasible for patients to visit the clinic for melanoma screening, Sancy Leachman (OHSU Knight Cancer Institute) and colleagues came up with an alternative: dermatoscopes that attach to a mobile phone, which high-risk patients can borrow and transmit images of suspicious lesions. It’s become a permanent option for rural patients and those who can’t easily travel. For patients with throat symptoms calling for endoscopy, Rebecca Fitzgerald (Cambridge University, MRC Cancer Unit) said her center began cautiously testing an alternative: the Cytosponge, a small mesh sponge within a soluble gelatin capsule that is swallowed and retrieved to collect esophageal cells. Kevin Monahan (St. Marks Hospital) said his team learned the cost of halting colonoscopy procedures and is working to safely maintain the service for symptomatic patients even if a pandemic second wave hits hard. Jackie Shannon (OHSU Knight Cancer Institute) said the pandemic has brought wide attention to long entrenched inequalities and health disparities, perhaps enough to drive much-needed policy changes and enduring efforts to reach underserved populations.
Leveraging risk stratification Cancer screening intensity should be matched to an individual’s risk of getting cancer. Jon Emery (University of Melbourne) described efforts to use genetic testing to help patients make informed decisions on colorectal cancer screening. He said it’s looking feasible to start to implement genetic risk stratification in the general practice setting. In the future, results will be even better with decision support tools that include risk factors such as diet, smoking, screening history, and medication use.
Julia Hipsley-Cox (University of Oxford) and colleagues are drawing upon the UK health system’s deep and detailed patient records to develop risk stratification algorithms to target cancer screening resources to people at highest risk and most likely to benefit from interventions (you can check them out at www.qcancer.org). Other tools are designed to be integrated into electronic medical record systems.
The day ended with two more lightning talks: Rebecca Landy (National Cancer Institute) noted a huge disparity in lung cancer screening guidelines: 32% of African Americans who developed lung cancer would have been eligible for CT screening, compared with 56% of whites. She showed how an individualized risk calculator (the LYFS-CT model) can effectively eliminate this disparity. Tom Callender (University College London) presented findings on the impact of MRI prior to biopsy on age-based and risk-tailored screening for prostate cancer.
Thank you for joining us. Please accept our sincere apologies for the technical challenges. Don’t forget: the video library will be updated each day with recordings of the meeting sessions.
Recapping day two
We have three more sessions lined up, but first here’s a recap of Wednesday.
Risk-tailored screening is a way to fit the intensity of testing to an individual’s risk of getting cancer. Hilary Robbins (International Agency for Research on Cancer) focused on the job of generating evidence that will be needed to establish risk-tailored cancer screening, presenting examples from lung cancer and breast cancer. Randomized clinical trials are not the way forward, she said, given the large numbers of subjects and lengthy follow-up needed just to answer a limited number of questions in only one context.
A cancer blood test developed by GRAIL, Inc., is being evaluated for its ability to detect more than 20 types of cancer and predict tissue of tumor origin. GRAIL Vice President Eric Fung highlighted the clinical studies that have led the company to focus on DNA methylation patterns for its multi-cancer early detection test undergoing a multicenter clinical trial due for completion in early 2021.
Two lightning talks closed the session: Amelie Lutz (Stanford University) is developing an ultrasound guided molecular imaging method for detecting ovarian cancer using microbubbles that target tumor angiogenesis. Stefano Avanzini (Stanford University) is using mathematical models to estimate the size tumors must reach to become detectable by tumor DNA circulating in blood. (For lung cancer, he estimates a median tumor detection size of 2 cm, which is a 43% decrease compared with the median size of diagnosed cancers in the SEER database.)
Dinah S. Singer (National Cancer Institute) began with a rundown of the NCI’s response to COVID-19 pandemic, from virus-focused research initiatives to the ways the agency is flexing to support grantees. She concluded with an overview of the cancer early detection programs the agency has underway, such as the Early Detection Research Network (now focusing on AI and machine learning to integrate omic data to find biomarkers), and The Human Tumor Atlas Network (HTAN), a massive effort to map the complex ecosystems of cancer – and pave the way for advances in prevention, early detection and treatment.
GAMBHIR HONORED WITH DON LISTWIN AWARD
Sanjiv Sam Gambhir was an internationally recognized pioneer in molecular imaging who dedicated his career to developing methods of early disease detection. The director of the Canary Center at Stanford died of cancer on July 18. He was honored with the Don Listwin Award in a ceremony with heartfelt and moving remembrances from Utkan Demirci (Stanford University) and Iain Foulkes (Cancer Research UK). The Listwin Award was established last year to recognize a sustained contribution to, or singular achievement in, the cancer early detection field. The award is named in honor of Don Listwin, founder and chairman of the Canary Foundation.
Recap of the final day
The third and final day kicked off with some eye-opening updates from the world of AI and machine learning.
Lily Peng and Sunny Jansen (Google Health) expounded on three overlooked requirements for building successful AI models: data of high quality, not just quantity; human-centered usability, not just model accuracy; cost-effectiveness, not just excellent performance.
AI systems are becoming adept at reading radiology images and pathology slides to correctly classify lesions as cancer or benign. Parag Mallick (Stanford University) explained how tools such as saliency mapping are making it possible to understand how the machines reach their conclusions – building confidence and potentially revealing biological insights. He also showed examples of AI tools for biomarker discovery that extract and create knowledge from massive, unstructured data sets.
Two lightning talks concluded the session: Freya Woods (Swansea University) showed how AI can improve the sensitivity and specificity of cancer detection by Raman spectroscopy, which her group is developing as a triage tool in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Rawen Kader (University College London) and colleagues have developed a neural network to assist real time decision-making during colonoscopy by classifying polyps as pre-cancerous or not, with a randomized clinical trial in the offing.
Should genomic risk stratification be part of early detection? Gareth Evans (Manchester University) made the case that it must, noting that polygenic risk scores robustly predict risk for several common cancers and can be used to fit the intensity of screening to a person’s risk of getting cancer. Cristian Tomasetti (Johns Hopkins University) argued that, while genomic risk stratification is useful for some cancer types, many others have no known inherited factors. He asserted that the development of affordable and minimally invasive multi- cancer blood tests will reduce the need for genetic risk stratification. Before the debate, 60% of meeting attendees agreed with Evans, and 40% agreed with Tomasetti. The ratio shifted to 50:50 after.
Before approving new early detection approaches for clinical use, should we require evidence of a cancer-specific mortality benefit from at least two randomized controlled trials? Harry De Koning (Erasmus University Medical Centre) pointed to the conflicting findings of clinical trials of screening methods such as PSA for prostate cancer to make the affirmative case. Steve Skates (Harvard University) asserted that requiring such evidence unnecessarily delays the use of early detection advances, and costs too much, when there are faster and less costly trial endpoints, such as reduction in late-stage diagnoses. In the poll of meeting attendees, agreement with De Koning dropped from 32% pre- debate to 20% percent after, with many deciding that it’s too much to ask for randomized trials showing mortality benefit.
On behalf of the Canary Center at Stanford, Cancer Research UK and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, thank you for joining us for the 2020 Early Detection of Cancer Virtual Conference. With luck, we’ll be able to meet in person at next year’s meeting. For now, the organizing committee has decided to be optimistic and start preparing for an in-person gathering in London.
October 9, 2019
Canary Center at Stanford, Cancer Research UK, and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, hosted the Early Detection of Cancer Conference September 24 – 26 at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, Stanford, California. Approximately 370 attendees, from 120 institutions, and 11 countries outside of the USA (including Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland, and Ukraine) brought forth their latest findings and ideas. The annual Conference brings together experts in early detection from multiple disciplines to share ground breaking research and progress in the field.
The conference is part of a long-term commitment to invest in early detection research, to understand the biology behind early stage cancers, find new detection and screening methods, and enhance uptake and accuracy of screening.
The talks ventured widely, from finding ways to extract more information from cell-free DNA in blood, to building cohorts of people at high risk of cancer to prospectively study the emergence of disease, to the role of the tumor micro-environment and the immune system in cancer early detection, and going beyond traditional risk factors to better select populations for targeted cancer screening.
Highlights of this year’s conference included: More »
February 3, 2019
What if we could view changes in the body earlier than early to warn of possible disease? That is the aim of Project Baseline, to map human health. The New York Times published “Project Baseline Aims to Ward Off Illness Before We Get Sick” by Anahad O’Connor (Oct 2018). The study is recruiting 10,000 adults. And each will be examined and followed for at least four years. So the goal is to discover the earliest warning signs of cancer, heart disease and other killers. Participants, the first of whom was enrolled in 2017, are called Baseline Explorers.
Project Baseline is the result of conversations in 2013, led by Google X’s Andrew Conrad. He consulted with Dr. Sam Gambhir, MD, chair of Radiology at Stanford University and director of the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection. And also with Robert M. Califf, MD, professor of Cardiology in the School of Medicine, Duke University.
Conrad (now CEO of Verily, a spin out of Google X) was interested in exploring with these two notable healthcare thought leaders, one in cancer and the other in cardiology, about how to create what has become a landmark study. Both had deep experience in working with large patient cohorts and focus on early detection of disease. The project has formed teams across the country.
Seeking to create a baseline of health
Traditional trials focus on those who have a disease. So Project Baseline, as the name implies, mainly enrolls healthy individuals gathering enormous amounts of information. Baseline equips enrollees with wearable technology from Verily that tracks sleep patterns, heart rhythms and physical activity. The team is developing tools and technologies to collect, organize, analyze and curate the data.
And investigators are determining the best ways to share data with participants that is helpful to them. They are looking at how they can engage with their medical professionals.
Canary Foundation and the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection
Dr. Gambhir has served as Canary Foundation’s scientific director for more than a decade. He led the development of the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection. The Canary Center is a partnership forged in 2008 between Stanford University and Canary Foundation under the leadership of Don Listwin, based on the foundation’s mission. And interesting to know, Canary Center is the first program Stanford has focused entirely on cancer early detection.
American Cancer Society Report January 2019 is hopeful. Yet it motivates us to work harder at finding better tests
January 16, 2019
The new American Cancer Society report shows us that cancer deaths have dropped by 27% since their peak in 1991. The decrease is attributed to early detection, better treatments and a reduction in smoking rates. The ACS report also points to a socio-economic disparity in the numbers, based on broad county and area reports collected by Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER – a National Cancer Institute source of epidemiologic information on the incidence and survival rates of cancer in the United States, where access to education and healthcare remains a problem. Additionally, lower incidence has been slower in cancers such as lung and prostate. Also, rates of new cases rose for pancreatic and other cancers. While the overall decline in rates is great news, we must keep up the momentum to create early detection tests to save lives as cancer remains the second cause of death in the United States (22% in 2016), and a major health issue worldwide.
The report states that in 2019, 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States. From the report: “…the Lifetime probability of being diagnosed with invasive cancer is 39.3 % for men and 37.7% for women. Prostate, lung and colorectal cancers (CRCs) account for 42% of all cases in men, with prostate cancer alone accounting for nearly 1 in 5 new diagnoses. For women, the 3 most common cancers are breast, lung, and colorectum, which collectively represent one-half of all new diagnoses; breast cancer alone accounts for 30% of all new cancer diagnoses in women. The reasons for the excess overall risk in men are not fully understood, but partly reflect differences in environmental exposures, endogenous hormones, and probably complex interactions between these influences.”
Canary Foundation has been on the forefront of stimulating the field of cancer early detection globally by demonstrating cancer early detection tests as well as hosting scientific symposiums, mentoring researchers choosing the early detection path, and forging important national and international partnerships. To address access problems, Canary’s investments have focused, when possible, on cost-effective tests as a path to bridging the socio-economic disparities. Examples can be found in are our funded studies in enhance ultrasound using microbubbles, where ultrasound is found in doctor’s offices worldwide, representing an imaging modality in development useful for multiple cancers that is low-cost, non- invasive and with the additional benefit of not using radiation.
Canary funds four collaborative studies that pair faculty at Stanford with faculty at the University of Cambridge
February 15, 2018
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.
October 24, 2017
University of Calgary cancer researchers to collaborate with top funding group
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).