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How a cancer diagnosis led to nation’s first crowdfunding platform for medical research

Molly Lindquist and hubbyWhen Molly Lindquist heard the words, "You have breast cancer," at the age of 32, her first thought was not about her treatment or even the prognosis. "I thought, 'I don't want my daughters to have to face this,'" Lindquist, a Stanford alumna and former Medicine X speaker, explained recently from her home in Portland. Lindquist's focus on her daughters' future was perfectly natural to the finance professional turned entrepreneur, who lists receiving a "Best Mom in the World" mug prominently in her list of accolades, which include being named a 2015 "40 Under 40" award winner by the Portland Business Journal.

The desire to save her daughters from a cancer diagnosis motivated Lindquist to create the nation's first-ever crowdfunding platform for medical research. Lindquist and her husband, Scott Finkelstein, MD, combined their prodigious business, technology and medical knowledge and skills to build the platform, called Consano, which means "to heal" in Latin.

Of course, being the "first ever" in any field comes with both victories and challenges. Lindquist found that fellow patients, family members and individuals interested in medical research loved the idea of being able to read about various research projects and then support the project that was most meaningful to them. She found that researchers also liked it because in addition to providing a new mechanism to raise money, it opened up their work to a broader audience than the traditional research funding agencies.

The academic research community, however, proved more reticent for the exact same reason. "The research funding model has not had much of an entrepreneurial approach," Lindquist explains. "But once academic institutions saw how it worked, they understood and began to work with us." In just a few years, Consano has provided the platform for thousands of citizens to support medical research in various areas, including cancer, addiction, mental health, diabetes and global health, from researchers at institutions including Stanford, UC San Francisco, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. When Lindquist noticed that many individuals were donating in memory of someone, she created an Honor Funds platform as a way for families and loved ones to honor the memory of a person by raising funds in their name to support research. Current Honor Funds support research in diverse areas, including infant stillborn death and the liposarcoma genome project.

Medical research is not the only area benefitting from Lindquist's ardent desire to create something positive in the face of a cancer diagnosis. Finkelstein says caring for his wife has given him a whole new appreciation for what it means to be a patient, and he believes this experience has made him a better doctor. In a KevinMD essay , Finkelstein wrote:

This experience showed me that while my body wasn't sick, being a caregiver presented unexpected and often overlooked challenges. Caregivers may not need physical support, but they need just as much emotional support. Through this realization, I know that I have become a better doctor. I make sure that everyone who accompanies a patient or loved one to surgery has a chance to speak and ask questions. I listen more. I make eye contact and hold my patient's hand. Although I was trained to maintain a professional distance from my patients, I am now more present than ever.

Lindquist too, has written about her experience for the Huffington Post, including a poignant moment when her daughter, Clara, 5 at the time of her diagnosis, asked her, "Mom, the chemotherapy is the medicine that makes it so you won't die, right?"

By creating Consano, Lindquist is hoping that Clara, and her younger daughter Audrey, as well as countless other young girls out there who may one day be mothers, won't have to face the same question from their child.

Jacqueline Genovese is assistant director of the Medicine & the Muse Program within the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

Previously: From patient to entrepreneur: Three Medicine X panelists offer advice
Photo of Molly Lindquist and her husband courtesy of Lindquist

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