SALT LAKE CITY-- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah its Comprehensive Cancer Center status, the highest designation possible. The announcement was made today in an award letter from NCI to Dr. Mary Beckerle, HCI's CEO and director. The award was the result of an extensive review process that culminated in a full-day on-site visit by national cancer research experts and thought leaders in the fourth quarter of 2014.
With this new status, Huntsman Cancer Institute joins distinguished cancer centers such as Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard University, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center; recognized among the top cancer centers in the world. HCI is the only cancer center to be designated by the National Cancer Institute in the five-state Intermountain West region, which includes Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada, and which covers more than 17 percent of the continental United States landmass.
The comprehensive cancer center designation recognizes not only the outstanding cancer research, training, and public outreach programs that have long been conducted at HCI, but acknowledges the exceptional depth and breadth of HCI research in each of the three major cancer research areas: laboratory, clinical and population-based research. The designation also recognizes HCI for the impact of its research findings on national cancer care guidelines and improved patient outcomes.
"This designation is the result of professionalism and exceptional expertise of our physicians, scientists, and administrative staff at Huntsman Cancer Institute," said Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., Huntsman Cancer Institute's founder and chief benefactor. "Only a small percentage of the nation's cancer programs have the excellence necessary to receive comprehensive cancer center status. What a difference this will make to the cancer patients in our state, in the region, and in the world."
An NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center must demonstrate depth and breadth of cancer research, as well as substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas and changes cancer care. In addition, a comprehensive cancer center must demonstrate professional and public education and outreach capabilities, including the distribution of clinical and public health advances in the communities it serves. The evaluation was done by a team of national cancer experts, and included a rigorous scientific review, a competitive grant process, and a site visit.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah praised the high quality of cancer research conducted at HCI. "I have nothing but praise for the high quality of the Huntsman Cancer Institute's cancer research, public outreach, and patient treatment," he said. "We are lucky to have such an extraordinary resource in our state. HCI is truly on the cutting edge of cancer research and provides unmatched care for patients during one of the most difficult times in their lives."
In a letter of support at the time the grant was submitted, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wrote of the "major impact [Huntsman Cancer Institute] has on advancing cancer research, education, and treatment not only in our state but in the nation.
"We are proud to have Huntsman Cancer Institute in our state," Herbert continued. "HCI has done a remarkable job of building upon an impressive history of genetic discoveries to advance personalized cancer care."
NCI evaluates each of its designated cancer centers every five years. Since the previous evaluation in 2009, when HCI applied and obtained renewal of its cancer center status, it has recruited 33 new program members and garnered 20 percent more NCI funding of its studies, even as such funding became more difficult to obtain. HCI opened more than 60 new collaborative grants and doubled enrollment in clinical trials of cancer treatments in the five-year project period. In addition, building expansion completed in 2011 doubled the size of the cancer hospital, and construction is underway that will double the size of HCI's research facilities upon its completion in 2017.
"Huntsman Cancer Institute stands as an exceptional model of the best that health care, and cancer care can be," said Vivian Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, Senior Vice President of University of Utah Health Sciences. "The Cancer Center has developed a top-notch system that integrates researchers and clinicians to work closely together to advance cutting edge care and marry science with compassion."
HCI's research excellence has been made possible by generous support of the Huntsman family and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, which supports HCI's research mission through philanthropic contributions. A 10-member External Advisory Board provides planning and evaluation direction to HCI; it includes such outstanding scientific luminaries as Edward Benz MD, president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard University; Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, of the University of California at San Francisco; and Brian Druker, MD, director of the Oregon Health Sciences University Knight Cancer Center.
Upon learning of HCI's award, Dr. Benz said, "I congratulate the people of Utah and the Intermountain West. Having an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in your community, in your region, is a huge advantage. The entire region now has access to the absolute cutting edge of the application of cancer research to new treatments, new prevention strategies and new strategies for early detection of cancer."
"The positive review of HCI's programs by leaders in cancer research recognizes and reaffirms the innovation and impact of our efforts to save lives. This NCI designation brings financial resources to support further development of our research infrastructure, keeping us on the leading edge of technology and expertise," Dr. Beckerle said. "This recognition of our potential for continued excellence, as well as of our previous accomplishments, magnifies our ability to attract top faculty and additional grant support for cancer research."
Now considered a world leader in the study of cancer genetics, Huntsman Cancer Institute's research strategy is to translate genetic understanding of cancer into individualized risk assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. HCI and its researchers have earned international recognition for their work in identifying gene mutations for hereditary colon cancer, breast and ovarian cancer, melanoma, neurofibromatosis, and paraganglioma.
NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, one of 11 agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services. It was established in 1937 as the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training.
About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is one of the world's top academic research and cancer treatment centers. HCI manages the Utah Population Database - the largest genetic database in the world, with more than 16 million records linked to genealogies, health records, and vital statistics. Using this data, HCI researchers have identified cancer-causing genes, including the genes responsible for melanoma, colon and breast cancer, and paraganglioma. HCI is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (a 26-member alliance of the world's leading cancer centers) and is a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers. The HCI Cancer Learning Center for patient and public education contains one of the nation's largest collections of cancer-related publications. The institute is named after Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., a Utah philanthropist, industrialist, and cancer survivor.