After Angels Den: 3 winners, 1 year later

Can cancer be diagnosed in 10 seconds? How do neurosurgeons save lives from thousands of kilometers away? Can we fix broken bones that won’t heal?

After Angels Den 3 winners 1 year later 2 1

Can doctors diagnose cancer in 10 seconds?

Ten seconds. It’s the countdown to the New Year. It's how long it takes a top runner to sprint 100 yards.

Now, thanks to Dr. Howard Ginsberg Dr. Arash Zarrine-Afsar and their team, it will take 10 seconds to diagnose brain cancer, instead of the usual days or weeks it takes to get a pathology report.

“We’ve created a handheld probe that uses a laser to access molecules from a tumour,” says Dr. Zarrine-Afsar. “The molecules are analyzed and run through a tumour data bank, and if there’s a match, we’ll know what we’re dealing with.”

“Our probe is a magic wand,” explains Dr. Ginsberg. “You point it at the cancer, and it tells you what that cancer is – in seconds.” The doctors predict the technology will be applied to other cancers, such as skin and lung cancers.

Like so many scientists, Drs. Ginseberg and Zarrine-Afsar had a great idea, but not a lot of seed money. So they competed at the 2021 Angels Den, where they won the Keenan Award for Medical Discovery.

One year later, more than $1 millions have flowed in from organizations, such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

Now the scientists are building a library to compare the tumours being diagnosed.

“We think of the molecules as fingerprints,” says Dr. Ginsberg. “Police take fingerprints from someone, but it’s only useful if they have fingerprints on file to compare them to. Our challenge is to build a massive database of these tumour fingerprints.”

It’s an expensive undertaking, and the doctors are looking for backers. The goal is to build the database within the next two years, so they can take their invention to clinical trials.

“At some point, these projects outstrip what academic grants can support. We’re looking at millions and millions of dollars, and academic grants just don’t get that big. We’re going full speed to commercialize this thing,” says Dr. Ginsberg.

As they navigate the tricky waters of getting a new medical device to market, Dr. Ginsberg and Dr. Zarrine-Afsar are mindful of the help that Angels Den gave to their venture.

“Most academic funders shy away from high-risk research,” says Dr. Zarrine-Afsar. “But Angels Den was there to kick start things for us.”

Stroke treatment when you’re thousands of kilometers away from a specialist?

Imagine. You’re in northern Ontario, and you suffer a stroke. But your local hospital doesn’t have a specialist on staff to treat you right away – when minutes mean disability or even your life. It’s not so hard to imagine. It’s a fact of living in a vast country. But not for long.

Since winning the Odette Award for Health Systems Innovation in 2021, Dr. Vitor Pereira and Dr. Julian Spears are making headway on their plans to perform surgery on people in remote communities – from Toronto – using robotics. They’ve secured equipment for simulation experiments. They’ve recruited surgical specialists to test for safety, and an engineer in robotic programming and antenna design. And they’re showcasing their groundbreaking work in Paris – from Toronto.

Thanks to their work, everyone just might have access to the life-saving surgery they deserve.

What happens when broken bones refuse to heal?

The audience votes were counted, and Dr. Aaron Nauth and Ikran Ali took home the 2021 Canada Life People’s Choice Award. Their research uses stem cells to mend the broken bones that refuse to heal, and leave people incapacitated and in debilitating pain.

One year later, Dr. Nauth’s team is testing their fracture model. The preliminary results are promising. They’ve also obtained additional funding for a study to validate their work with human stem cells. The next step: a larger study to assess how stem cells from patients – with a range of health conditions – work in this model. And then it’s on to clinical trials.

One day soon, no one will have to live with bones that won’t heal.

The 8th annual Angels Den streams on November 16, 2022. That’s when you also get a chance to vote for your favourite team. Register here for updates.

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