Every revolution needs a leader. OHSU is out to transform cancer care once again, building on its pioneering work in precision cancer medicine by taking on the biggest unmet need in cancer care today: detecting lethal cancers before they gain a foothold in the body.
It’s one of the best ways to increase cancer survivorship. That’s why OHSU is launching a grand scale program — among the first of its kind — devoted to solving this problem.
To gain the advantage on cancer, we’ll need a small army. And that’s just what we’re building: a world-class, multidisciplinary team — all focused on a common goal. Now we’ve found the leader who will recruit and inspire this army. Sadik Esener, Ph.D., will join the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute as director of the newly created Center for Early Detection Research — a recruitment that was made possible by the success of the Knight Cancer Challenge. He will hold the Wendt Family Endowed Chair in Early Cancer Detection.
Dr. Esener comes to OHSU from the University of California, San Diego, where he works with the Moores Cancer Center, is a professor in the Jacobs School of Engineering, and directs the NanoTumor Center for Cancer Nanotechnology of Excellence (funded by the National Cancer Institute). He is a nanotechnology and nanomedicine expert and an electrical and computer engineer.
An institution that fights cancer differently needs a leader who thinks differently. Dr. Esener’s wide-ranging expertise and entrepreneurial track record position him to unite scientists from multiple fields in cancer research behind a single purpose – and to approach a long-intractable scientific problem with ingenuity. While cancer treatments have advanced significantly in past decades, cancer screening methods have remained largely unchanged.
“Our goal requires that we completely reimagine early detection,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “We were insistent on recruiting a leader with proven skill in assembling and leading a highly diverse team in a unified direction. Just as important, Sadik has the relentless energy and creative thinking we believe is a hallmark of the OHSU culture.”
Dr. Esener has mastered an astonishing range of scientific fields relevant to early detection research, including electrical and optical engineering, nano-engineering and material sciences for biomedical applications.
“I can look at problems from different angles,” he said. “And cancer is a very complicated problem.”
Dr. Esener is known as a big thinker on the subject of very, very small things. His research explores ways to use miniaturized devices to travel inside the body to home in on cancer cells. He has developed nano-scale “smart bullets” that could transform cancer research and the practice of medicine. These nano-bullets have the potential to perform a range of functions, from capturing biomarkers to releasing drugs directly at the tumor site.
Like so many of us, Dr. Esener has a personal stake in the fight against cancer. He lost his wife and his mother to the disease.
“I got involved with cancer before it hit my family,” he said. “But when my wife was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and a few weeks later my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — it affects you tremendously.”
Despite his personal loss, Dr. Esener sees reason for hope. “We can be cautiously optimistic nowadays,” he said. “Collectively, we are at a pivotal scientific moment because many new approaches such as fluid biopsies for detection and immunotherapies for treatment are presently emerging from research laboratories.”
What’s next? We need to understand which forms of cancer are likely to become lethal, and which are not. This will better enable doctors to stop deadly cancers in their tracks and spare patients from unnecessary treatment for non-lethal abnormalities. We need to develop next-generation cancer detection methods and technologies, such as body fluid tests and improved imaging. These are top priorities for the early detection program.
“I’m looking forward to finding solutions to this important problem,” said Dr. Esener. “We have an opportunity here to make a real impact on this terrible disease.”
Four interesting facts about Dr. Sadik Esener:
- His grandfather worked with Marie Curie.
- He works in nano-scale. How small is that? Esener has built a micro-cannon that is 5 micrometers long — the thickness of spider silk. It fires nanobullets that are 1 micrometer in size.
- He has co-founded half a dozen companies to make his inventions accessible to the scientific and medical communities.
- Of Turkish origin, he grew up in France and earned his B.S. at the Technical University of Istanbul, his M.S. from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego.