Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation: Dreaming Big Starts Small

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This past week I spoke at a fundraiser for the Kanzius (pronounced Kansas) Cancer Research Foundation, a foundation that is not content with marginal improvements in treating cancer but is working toward orders of magnitude improvements at a more affordable cost.

The basic science is this:  target cancer cells with antibodies that have metal nanoparticles attached.  The nanoparticles are heated with radio waves, killing just the cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells alone.  Ergo, none of the collateral damage of traditional chemotherapy.  They will go to FDA trials in 2012.  Here are two clips from a 60-minute special hosted by Lesley Stahl.



Seen through the lens of daring and dreaming and disruption, here are five observations:

1.    Dreams are frequently borne of our deepest sorrows — After undergoing eighteen rounds of chemotherapy, John Kanzius knew the suffering of the children in the hospital.  He had to do something.  I couldn't help but think, it's only when “we aren't in Kansas anymore”, or on our hero's journey, do we begin to make our greatest contribution.

2.    Dreams tend to work best when we bootstrap, pulling from resources on hand.  When resources are limited, we must iterate on our idea so that it can pay for itself.  This forces us to make decisions about priorities, to test, and test again.  It also allows us to begin.  John Kanzius didn't wait to write a grant, to get funding, or until he got well, or he had the medical training.  He just started.  Dreaming big starts small.

3.   Dreaming may be an inalienable right, but it is still likely to be scary and lonely.  As I've described here and here, a disruptive innovation is either a low-end or new market innovation.  Which means you are innovating where no one wants to play, or has even thought of playing.  That can be lonely.  It can cause you to second guess yourself.  Pie pans and hot dogs.  It doesn't get much lower end than that.

4.  We dream so our children can dream.  When we dream, we model for our children what dreaming looks like.  Also by living out our own life, we allow our children to live theirs.  For John Kanzius, it was even more literal.  He dreamed, so that children could live to dream.

5.  Once we invest in ourselves, it's important to take stock in othersDr. Steven Curley, an accomplished surgeon and scientist, could have easily dismissed Kanzius as a dilettante at best, a crackpot at worst.  He was generous enough (and smart!) to listen to Kanzius when approached.

C.S. Lewis said, “do not dare, not to dare.”

I am grateful that John Kanzius wouldn't have dreamed of not daring.



P.S.  Thanks to Kevin Balfe and Betsy Morgan for inviting me to speak — it was a pleasure and a privilege.

P.S.S.  Thanks to my husband, a Columbia-trained Ph.D. molecular biologist cum cancer researcher for verifying that the science is in fact promising. 

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