In May, the Canary Foundation of San Jose, Calif., a nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to the early detection of cancer, announced an alliance with Stanford University to create a Center of Excellence for Cancer Early Detection. The Canary Foundation will donate $7.5 million, and an additional $4 million will come from Stanford’s Department of Radiology, to kick off the program.
“This center is focused on early detection of cancer, and it brings together two major areas, that of in vitro diagnostics, as well as in vivo diagnostics,” says Sanjiv Gambhir, the director of the new center. Gambhir is a professor of radiology and bioengineering at Stanford, as well as director of the university’s molecular imaging program. His lab will use the money to advance work on in vivo imaging to localize cancer sites.
Because so little money and research goes into detecting cancer early, the center’s focus will be on combining the in vitro identification of blood biomarkers with the in vivo molecular imaging and other proteomics-based techniques that find target proteins associated with cancers. “Traditionally these two fields don’t work together,” Gambhir says. “We think there is a great synergy in bringing the two fields together, and the center will have elements of both.” Collaborations on in vitro techniques will be pursued with Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and several centers in Southern California, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
In addition to positron emission tomography scanning, Gambhir uses cutting-edge molecular imaging tools such as optical imaging, photoacoustics, and molecular ultrasound. All of these allow him to localize a target protein by having that protein communicate “back to us through light, sound, and radiation,” he says. “And in that way we can hunt down cancer in vivo at the molecular level.”
Ideally, if someone is predisposed to cancer, then he or she would undergo both a blood test and molecular screening. If any precancerous or cancerous target proteins or biomarkers are found, the cancer can be caught early and destroyed, Gambhir says.
Other scientists whose labs will receive funds include Patrick Brown, who uses gene expression profiles to study factors affecting tumor proliferation as well as to predict responses to specific therapies; James Brooks, known for his research on prostate cancer; and Simon Fredriksson, who studies proximity ligation technology.