Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment

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Canary Center: 10 Years of Catalyzing Change

The Canary Center represents a partnership between Canary Foundation and Stanford University, where Stanford embraced Canary’s mission as their own strategy for cancer early detection. The partnership resulted in financial support, involvement in our multi-institutional teams, and team management that includes goal setting, project advancement and help resolving road blocks. Stanford committed funds for lab renovations, other infrastructure assets and a rare offering of 8 faculty billets, the first ever fully dedicated to cancer early detection. Canary Foundation provides start-up packages for the faculty positions to get them going until they attract their own funding.

Silicon Valley, a region known for its concentration of technology and biotech development, provided the ideal hub to respond to the needs of early detection. This particular pooling of a strong clinical experience, research, engineers, and bioinformatics is what inspired other institutions to examine their local resources and how to coalesce them into an identified goal. Be it big data, molecular imaging, engineering or a unique research population, each center is adept at offering their dedicated resources for collaboration purposes.

The Canary Center showcases the need for the presence of transdisciplinary entities around one table, combining dedicated people, resources and strategy to an identified viable goal.

Today, this merging of resources is replicated in hubs around the world, not only taking Canary’s approach global, but also catalyzing collaboration.

Our collaboration with the centers in Oregon, Calgary, and the UK testify to our approach that investment in talent, expertise and networks is the best way to tackle cancer early detection.

A good example of this international collaboration is Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald’s sponge (Cambridge) used to retrieve cells from the esophagus, and Dr. Utkan Demirci’s technology (Canary Center at Stanford) capable of separating a mixed cell population. By combining unique sample types with unique technology, both US and UK centers are hoping to complement each other’s work thus advancing cancer early detection.

10 years ago, we were the first physical location worldwide to concentrate talent, resources and partnerships all focused on cancer early detection. 10 years later, our influence has gone global with numerous cancer early detection centers, inspired by Canary’s model, helping to push life-saving early detection to the forefront. 

Scientific program manager Dr. Heidi Auman follows Don Listwin’s motto of “storming, forming, norming, and performing”*

Our scientific leadership identifies the highest unmet clinical needs for a particular cancer type, and Canary builds multi-institutional teams focused in the areas required for answering the research questions. Heidi helps build the teams from the ground up and to shape goals. She describes when Canary assembled their lung team to illustrate.

When forming the Canary Lung team in Canary’s early years,” she shares, “we wanted to understand why non-smokers get lung cancer. Canary looked for experts in various omics (such as genomics, proteomics, and transcriptomics), database coordinators, data analysts, clinical teams, and assay developers. We put together these groups from Vancouver and Victoria (British Columbia), Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and Baltimore, and forged a collaboration with the Early Detection Research Network of the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC to support the work. The collaboration resulted in the identification of a biomarker that was developed into a blood test, which is now being used in validation trials to identify early stage lung cancer. This was an important contribution from Canary Foundation to the research field.”

This kind of extensive collaboration requires a lot of communication, coordination and infrastructural support, which is where Heidi comes in. Her practice of “storming, forming, norming and performing” orients these scientific teams to brainstorm and then coalesce into actionable ideas, to arrive at the goal of a the project. She has applied these methods to Canary-formed teams in prostate, breast, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, in addition to lung.

This year, the ovarian cancer team is surging ahead to find better tests for those with high risk. Canary Foundation’s goal for 2019 is to progress their new ovarian cancer initiative. Currently in the team-building and goal-setting stages with Heidi as guide, the researchers will focus on developing tests for the most common and lethal subtype of ovarian cancer, high grade serous ovarian cancer.

“We’re taking advantage of advances in knowledge and technology to uncover the fundamental steps in the disease’s development. These next generation studies require careful planning and collaborative team science. By pooling resources through a multi-institutional effort we can increase the number of ovarian cancer cases to study.”

*From the 1965 Bruce Tuckman theory on team development