Stanford chair of radiology calls for increased focus on early detection

The World Molecular Imaging Society (WMIS) held its 2015 World Molecular Imaging Congress last week in Honolulu, Hawaii, gathering leaders from throughout the industry to present their latest research.

During the conference, Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, 2017 WMIS president-elect and chair of the department of radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, spoke to the media about what he considers one of the most important issues facing molecular imaging today: an increased focus on early detection.

“We, as a global society, continue to invest way too much money, time, energy and effort on the wrong end of the problem,” Gambhir said. “We really need to shift away from late-stage disease to early detection, and that’s where we have the choice, as a society, to make in order to make a very big difference. It’s a difficult problem … but I think we do an injustice to society in the long term by continuing to focus on late-stage disease, including late-stage cancer.”

Gambhir emphasized that focusing on early detection is important for both the immediate future and many years down the line.

“If we would take the same amount of funding, whether it be research, industry or a combination of those, and apply them to technology development for early-stage disease, we would be much better off if we fast-forwarded a decade or two,” Gambhir said. “Molecular imaging has a huge role to play here, because the technologies are evolving to be more sensitive, to see fewer and fewer tumor cells. When married to in vitro diagnostics, we have the ability to intercept disease much earlier than we do now.”

Gambhir also said there is a movement in the molecular imaging industry toward monitoring individuals continuously, instead of just imaging a patient at specific times during treatment. This would provide scientists and physicians with much more context when researching illness, he explained.

“In a lot of what we see right now, it’s like a play,” Gambhir said. “We’re brought into a play for a few minutes, we’re escorted out. We’re brought back into the play, escorted out. Then we’re asked to put the story together. So a lot of theories that scientific and medical community has are fundamentally flawed, because we don’t have a movie of the process of the transition from health to disease.”

Gambhir also addressed the way funding for medical research is shifting in the U.S.

“Funding models are changing,” Gambhir said. “I think that the traditional, industrial funding models of the big companies like the GEs, the Siemens and the Philips of the world are shifting to companies that are thinking about healthcare in new ways, like the Googles of the world, the Apples of the world.”

In addition, while funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is dropping overall, Gambhir explained, the imaging industry is still doing an effective job at securing funding when possible. Gambhir's comments on funding echoed previous statements from NIH director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, who delivered a special lecture at last year's RSNA conference discussing the state of funding and how it is impacting research.