Mike Heller, PhD, Joins OHSU Knight Cancer Institute


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Mike Heller, PhD

Mike Heller, PhD

THE OREGON Health & Science University (OHSU) Knight Cancer Institute announced that bioengineering and technology expert Mike Heller, PhD, will join the Institute’s Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center (CEDAR) to lead its technology efforts. A leader with more than 53 issued patents, Dr. Heller comes to OHSU from the University of California, San Diego, where he established a laboratory centered in the university’s bioengineering and nanoengineering departments. He is credited with developing biochips to analyze blood for cancer biomarkers. 

In addition to his academic experience, Dr. Heller previously served as Chief Technical Officer at Nanogen, a company he cofounded with Sadik Esener, PhD, Director of CEDAR. While at Nanogen, the two partners came up with the idea to use electrokinetic devices to screen blood for early signs of cancer. Dr. Esener said Dr. Heller’s in-depth expertise in sample preparation and point-of-care instrumentation, along with Dr. Heller’s seasoned mentorship abilities, will be advantageous to CEDAR. 

“Early detection is one of the biggest cancer challenges,” Dr. Heller said. “There’s an enormous amount of work going on in cancer—research, therapeutics, and diagnostics—but not many people are focusing on early detection research.” 

Key Areas of Focus 

To date, more than 20 people with expertise in engineering, cancer biology, informatics, and computer science have been recruited to the CEDAR team. Dr. Esener and colleagues have outlined six key areas of focus for CEDAR, including: 

1. Early Technology: To provide innovative tools to support early detection in all focus areas 

2. Early Biology: To study the essential characteristics of cells and their microenvironment to determine what creates cancer 

3. Population Health: To focus on studying genetic predispositions and high-risk phenotypes to identify high-risk individuals and create effective cancer screening strategies 

4. Individual Risk Assessment: To better understand cancer from a population level and determine the underlying causes of cancer risk 

5. Prognosis Assessment: To prevent overdiagnosis and treatment that might lead to a reduction in quality of life 

6. Early Therapeutics: To develop precision therapies that can be applied at the onset of lethal cancers with the goal of turning them into chronic diseases. ■



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