CAMBRIDGE, MA – 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.”
Draper has achieved significant advances in related problems, such as aerial imaging of shorelines, where its software has been shown to separate light that is due to reflections off the water’s surface from light that is coming from underwater features such as rocks, to identify hazards to navigation. “Our work on medical imaging will apply these techniques, as well as others that we will develop, to medical imaging. Draper’s goal is to help the radiology community save lives through earlier detection of cancer and cancer recurrence. The Canary Foundation has gathered the very best people in the field to form a community of researchers who are working together to solve this problem. We are thrilled to join this effort and want to help in any way that we can.”
To support Draper’s outreach to the philanthropic community, Sheila Hemami joined the company recently as its Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities.
According to Hemami, “Today’s philanthropists want to leave a legacy of contribution to humanity by improving quality of life, bringing new insights to complicated topics, and solving mysteries of the world in which we live and beyond. It’s less about naming a building and more about changing the world. As an independent not-for-profit engineering company employing more than 1,000 scientists and engineers, philanthropists can rely on Draper to deliver the capabilities they need to make a difference.”
Hemami actively seeks opportunities to partner with organizations and individuals with in-depth understanding of global challenges. By combining that knowledge with Draper’s engineering capabilities, solutions can be developed where technology will have the greatest impact.
For example, Draper's strengths in large-scale logistics planning and delivery in uncertain terrains has obvious applications in places ravaged by natural disasters and war, such as in Haiti and Aleppo. The company’s expertise in sensor design and data collection, high-precision measurements and geolocation, and remote operation of sensors can provide support in climate change interventions and other environmental challenges. Furthermore, Draper’s strengths in precision medicine and microfluidics can be game-changers in fighting not only widespread killers like cancer but also orphan diseases. “The possibilities are almost limitless,” explained Hemami.
Canary Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated solely to the funding, discovery and development of tests for early cancer detection. The goal is to identify cancer through a simple blood test, isolate the disease through imaging scans, and then to intervene early enough to dramatically increase the chance of a full recovery with minimal side effects. Canary Foundation is based in Redwood City, California and was founded by Don Listwin in 2004.