Last year Monika Davare, a researcher at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, needed funding to take the first steps forward with her idea for finding new treatments for medulloblastoma, the most common brain tumor in children. Rather than apply for a grant, she posted a description of her project online, along with an earnest plea for donations, using a Portland-based nonprofit called Consano.
“R&D efforts for childhood brain cancers are a low priority for the pharmaceutical industry because the number of children who suffer from this devastating disease is comparatively small,” Davare notes. In short order, she raised $6,033 via the crowdfunding platform for medical research, about $100 more than originally requested.
Consano was founded by Molly Lindquist, a Portland native and graduate of Stanford University who worked for World Market and Banana Republic before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 32. Consano means “to heal” in Latin. Lindquist says she started the nonprofit “in hopes that my daughters don’t have to face breast cancer.”
After 15 months in business, the outfit has raised about $120,000, not much in the billion-dollar world of biomedical research. But Lindquist hopes to help fill the gap left by declining federal support for medical research, particularly for young scientists or those with maverick ideas less likely to gain NIH support. Another goal is to connect people and patients with scientists.
“We hope we can amplify the patient voice. It’s a voice that is not always heard,” she says. “We’re giving them an opportunity to support research, but also to potentially have the ability to play a larger role in the conduct of research.”
Straight-up popularity may not be the best way to choose research worthy of funding, and Lindquist says the nonprofit tries to manage that problem with a vetting process. For instance, Consano has assembled an advisory board of scientists that reviews every proposal for soundness.
“What we’ve found is it’s really the engagement level of the researchers that dictates the success of the crowdfunding,” she says. The more personal the updates from researchers, the more likely people are to donate.
Running the nonprofit is a full-time job for Lindquist, but she works without pay. “Had you told me two and a half years ago I would work for free, I would have laughed at you. But it’s definitely been a healing process for me and for my family.”