Can crowdfunding help medical research?

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The Toronto Star | By: Staff Reporter | November 27, 2013

WaveCheckA Toronto hospital is using crowdfunding to continue studying a chemotherapy diagnostic tool.

It’s frequently used to raise money for producing movies and recording CDs, but a Toronto hospital is hoping the crowdfunding craze can help get potentially life-saving treatment out of the lab and into the arms of the people who need it most.

For almost two decades, Dr. Gregory Czarnota, chief of radiation oncology at Sunnybrook Hospital, has been working with Michael Kolios, an associate dean in Ryerson University’s faculty of science, on software that could help better manage breast cancer treatments.

WaveCheck — used in conjunction with ultrasound machines — can help determine whether chemotherapy is actually working, within weeks rather than months.

The early information could save months of unnecessary, painful treatment since chemotherapy is successful less than 50 per cent of the time in breast cancer patients.

But the more advanced the research got, the more funding dried up. The project was no longer “new and innovative,” a category for which there are numerous grants, Dr. Czarnota said. That didn’t mean it was ready for companies to invest in.

“They say, ‘well, that’s still science. You finish it and then come to us,’” he said. “So there’s sort of a gap in between having the product developed and developing a tool that can be used in a clinic and finishing off the scientific validation.”

WaveCheck has been used on a trial basis for more than a hundred patients at Sunnybrook, but needs to be used at multiple sites before it can be licensed by Health Canada and offered widely.

But without grants, researchers have been left in application limbo; submitting applications, waiting months for a response, resubmitting applications, waiting again.

And rather than delay expanding the trials up to two years while they wait, Dr. Czarnota and a group of doctors and researchers from Sunnybrook, Ryerson and MaRS Innovation are hoping crowdfunding is the solution.

There are just eight days left of the two-month-long campaign to raise more than half of the $96,987 needed to launch an additional trial.

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