Who’s Really the Enemy Here?

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

hawking

When someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the gut reaction is to attack that disease. That’s certainly how we felt when David was diagnosed, and our initial efforts were focused on ending Glioblastoma (GBM) because that was the type of tumor David had. We were not involved in the world of research, and that seemed the most logical  course of action to us. To strike back at the thing that struck at us.

We thought we knew how to help. As we learned more, we realized that we needed to help find cures for brain cancer as a group of cancers because there is a lot that can be learned by studying them together. We also felt like we needed to help that community as a whole because they are so underserved. A broader goal brought us into contact with many more researchers, and many more ideas.

We were energized by some of the sharpest minds in research, and realized that the kind of analytics we wanted to do are really best empowered by studying all types of cancer, and even other diseases, in tandem. The most cutting-edge research points to cancer being mutations in genes and studying the mutations, regardless of the starting point in the body, is leading to new research pathways.
Cancer is a disease that has plagued humanity for generations. In all that time, we have mostly dealt with it as a disease of a particular body part. We now know that it is much more complicated than that, and we need to empower researchers to follow many pathways.
David had a bright and curious mind. For him, helping researchers was never really about helping himself. It was always about helping other people and solving the puzzle of cancer. Brain cancer is the beast that took David from us, and we would love to see that disease wiped out for good. But what if the answer to curing brain cancer lies in pancreatic cancer research? What if the answers we seek lie in the cure for  fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive? (That’s a super interesting rare disease that has been connected to the brain cancer DIPG. You can learn more about that here.)
It’s human nature to strike back at the thing that hits you. But do we really even know what that thing is? Dragon Master Foundation is focused on putting all of a patient’s information into one giant research platform. It’s a database, yes, but it is also a place where researchers can collaborate and gain access to biosamples. It has a patient’s full genomic data, but it also has their treatment path over time. It gives us a more complete picture of what is going on with the patient and what treatments are successful. It can help us understand why certain patients do well on a clinical trial and some don’t. And possibly most important, it looks at patients across many disease types to compare and contrast things like gene mutations. Instead of having one small group of researchers working on a problem, this platform makes it possible for any researcher, anywhere on the planet, to work on high quality data to help find cures.
Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. It’s a time when people around the world put a few of their hard-earned dollars into the hands of a charity that they hope can change the world. I’m convinced that Dragon Master Foundation is one of the most deserving places you could make your donation. Here are a few of the reasons why:
  • No one at Dragon Master Foundation gets paid.
  • We direct all of our research dollars directly into this one project that is already speeding research. (One doctor said that it shaved a month and a half off of his typical tissue request workflow!)
  • This project has the potential to help patients with cancer as well as a host of other medical conditions.
  • Through this portal, research can be done on both adult and pediatric populations.
  • It was listed as part of Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Fact Sheet.
  • It is open access – meaning researchers don’t have to be part of a special consortium to access the data.
  • It is cloud based – meaning the researchers don’t have to download petabytes of data that can take days to acquire. It also means they are not dependent on their hospital’s computational power because they can do their work directly in the web.
Dragon Master Foundation isn’t the only foundation funding this. As of right now, there are 13 hospitals and more than twice as many foundations putting resources toward this project. However, many of them have a specific disease focus where they direct their resources. By donating through Dragon Master Foundation, you can be assured that your donation will go to building the infrastructure that will help all patients, all researchers. This isn’t just a gift to help researchers. This is a gift for mankind. This #GivingTuesday, you can  be part of the generation that changes the world.

White House Champions of Change for Precision Medicine

Uncategorized
The Precision Medicine Champions of Change with Dr. Francis Collins.

The Precision Medicine Champions of Change with NIH Director Francis Collins.

I have always been proud to be an American. I like to think that I’ve done things for the betterment of our country through the years. For more than a decade, I worked with paralyzed veterans, and I like to think I made a positive impact there. It is rare that any of us get any major recognition for our work, but on July 8th, I was invited by the White House to speak about my new passion – cancer research. Along with 8 other Americans, I was recognized for making a positive impact on precision medicine. The award was a great honor, and it was so motivating to be in the room with so many passionate, innovative people!

While the experience is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some of it with all of you. As you might imagine, an honor like this was uplifting and also a little intimidating. I mean, the White House! I had been as a visitor, but never as a guest! We had specific times that we were allowed to enter, based on what we were doing that day. I was allowed in early, but the folks with me had times staggered throughout the day that they could enter.

Richard was with two key players in the database effort – Adam Resnick and Jay Storm. I was so glad to have all of them there to keep my thoughts on track. Talking with them is so invigorating! Their clarity of vision and intense desire to help children is so motivating. I wish I could relate their passion to everyone. Being in that environment is like  watching a hot air balloon come to life… Filling and filling until it rises off the ground and soars to its higher purpose. We all have that purpose inside us, and being with others who can help us see our purpose is one of life’s most amazing gifts.

So they were with me in spirit, but I entered the building alone. After a security check, I was in and looking for our meeting room. The Champions gathered waiting for our turn to be filmed for a quick segment on precision medicine. Not sure when that will be available for viewing, but it was a good way to start the day.

After that, we went into round table discussions on various aspects of precision medicine. Richard, Adam, and Jay were all in the building in time to participate in these sessions. There was valuable information shared, but the sessions were too short to really hear from all the participants. There were many people in the room that I wanted to hear more from. I’m hoping that we will have a chance to connect after everyone returns to their normal lives.

We had a quick lunch break but the guys and I had gotten separated. Luckily, that is about the time that Kevin Beezhold arrived. Kevin is one of the people who nominated me for the award so it was great to get to meet him in person. He and I discussed his thoughts on my upcoming panel questions, and it was good to get his perspective.

By this time, we were able to reconnect with Richard, Jay, and Adam. One last pep talk and I was off to meet NIH Director Francis Collins! He was very aware of my personal story and seemed receptive to Dragon Master’s database project. I got the chance to tell him that we would love to work in conjunction with the NIH and he seemed receptive to that idea.

A portion of the afternoon is available on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1fv5nne

The room was filled with passionate people who care deeply about making a positive impact on healthcare and precision medicine. And oddly enough, they seemed to be mostly in agreement on the changes that need to happen:

  • greater sharing of data, especially to new populations of people like patients and their families
  • education of the general public so they will understand their rights when it comes to data
  • special care to include parts of the population that may feel alienated from the process

I’m proud to say that the database we are working on will definitely address the data sharing issues. I hope that as we are building it we can also help people understand their role in how this data can be used. We want to include everyone in the process of collecting and using the data, so I hope that we can be transparent in the process and help everyone feel secure about their choices to share data.

In an effort to help people understand why this is all so important, I’m going to be making some videos about our database and how it can be used. We will be taping some of these videos at WSU on Thursday, July 16th at 10am in the Rhatigan Student Center. I’d love it if you could join us, and ask any questions you may have about Dragon Master Foundation and our database.