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  • History of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

    Dr. Sidney Farber with a young patientSidney Farber, MD, with a young patient

    In 1947, Sidney Farber, MD, founded the Children's Cancer Research Foundation, dedicated to providing compassionate, state-of-the-art treatment to children with cancer while developing the cancer preventatives, treatments, and cures of the future.

    The foundation officially expanded its programs to include patients of all ages in 1969, and in 1974 became known as the Sidney Farber Cancer Center in honor of its founder. The long-term support of the Charles A. Dana Foundation was acknowledged by incorporating the Institute under its present name in 1983.

    Today, the Institute employs over 4,500 people supporting more than 450,000 patient visits a year, is involved in some 900 clinical trials, and is internationally renowned for its blending of research and clinical excellence. The Institute's expertise in these two aspects of the fight against cancer uniquely positions it to develop and test the next generation of cancer therapies in both the laboratory and the clinic.

    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a principal teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, a federally designated Center for AIDS Research, and a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, a federally designated comprehensive cancer center.

    Listen to Dr. Sidney Farber's 1951 presentation on "Newer Agents in the Treatment of Acute Leukemia."

    Read the transcript of Dr. Farber's talk

    Providing advanced training in cancer treatment and research for an international faculty, the Institute conducts community-based programs in cancer prevention, detection, and control throughout New England, and maintains joint programs with other Boston institutions affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the Partners Health Care System, including Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

    Dana-Farber is supported by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the generous support of numerous foundations and individuals who contribute to the Institute's individual research and clinic programs or to the Jimmy Fund , the principal charity of the Institute, named for one of its child patients.

    Sidney Farber, MD

    A career in cancer research driven by the power of an idea

    Dr. Sidney Farber at microscopeThe young Dr. Sidney Farber (1947)

    The light seemed never to go out. At nine or ten o'clock at night, passersby on Binney Street would see it gleaming from the top floor of the Jimmy Fund Building and know that Sidney Farber, MD, was at work.

    Associates didn't need to know whether the light in his office signified that Farber was reviewing the results of a clinical trial, preparing for an appearance before Congress, or discussing a new fundraiser with the Red Sox; there was never any doubt about the ultimate aim of his efforts.

    He was convinced that the only thing standing between science and a cure for cancer was sustained research, sufficient funding, and the national will to bring it about.

    It was a conviction he had a unique right to hold. At an age when other physicians and scientists were just settling into their careers, Farber had achieved the first clinical remission with chemotherapy ever reported for childhood leukemia.

    In the mid-1940s, Farber was a pathologist at Boston's Children's Hospital. Medicine was poised for a post-war boom in research that would revolutionize the treatment of many diseases.

    For children and adults with leukemia, however, the prognosis was as grim as it had been when the disease was first described in 1845: death, often painful, usually within weeks of diagnosis.

    Leukemia was a symbol of medicine's longstanding powerlessness against many diseases. There was essentially nothing, other than a brief respite with cortisone therapy, that doctors could offer young leukemia patients.

    Farber felt differently. Leukemia is a disease of the white blood cell-making tissue of the bone marrow. Studies during World War II had shown that pernicious anemia and tropical anemia – both caused when bone marrow fills with immature cells called blasts – could be cured relatively easily with vitamin B12 and folic acid, respectively.

    Farber believed a similar solution could be achieved for leukemia. He knew that folic acid stimulates the growth and maturation of bone marrow. If a drug could be found that chemically blocks folic acid, he reasoned, it would shut down the production of the abnormal marrow associated with leukemia.

    As luck would have it, the pharmaceutical manufacturer Lederle was testing just such a drug, called Aminopterin. In November 1947, Farber tried the drug on a group of 16 children who were seriously ill with leukemia. Temporary remissions were achieved in 10 of them.

    Farber reported these results in the June 3, 1948, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Instead of acclaim and acceptance, however, many in the scientific community reacted to the news with a mixture of disbelief and resistance.

    Part of the reason was cultural. In the entire history of medicine, no drug had proved effective against non-solid tumors (those that involve bodily fluids such as blood or lymph).

    Frustration was taken as a sign of futility. Part of the reason for the chilly reception, surely, was personal: for a young pathologist working in a basement lab to make a discovery of such magnitude, with little in the way of funds, staff or scientific equipment, was seen as presumptuous.

    The reaction among practicing physicians and pediatricians, however, was quite different. Calls, telegrams, and letters poured in from practitioners throughout New England and, later, around the country, asking for help or advice. Farber answered each one personally.

    The discovery marked the first (but hardly the last) time Farber would overturn conventional medical wisdom or spearhead an advance against cancer.

    Sidney Farber was born in 1903 in Buffalo, N.Y., the third oldest of 14 children. He graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1923 and took his first year of medical school at the Universities of Heidelberg and Freiberg, in Germany. He entered Harvard Medical School as a second-year student, graduating with the class of 1927.

    After graduate training in pathology at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston (the predecessor of Brigham and Women's Hospital), he was appointed resident pathologist at Children's Hospital and assistant in pathology at Harvard Medical School in 1928. In 1929, he became the first full-time pathologist at Children's Hospital.

    The publication of Farber's groundbreaking New England Journal study came at a propitious moment. World War II had recently ended, and the leaders of the motion picture industry were flush with wealth, as movie-making had been one of the few highly profitable industries during the war years.

    How it began

    groundbreaking for Jimmy Fund Building in 1949Groundbreaking (1949) for Jimmy Fund Building; note Burt Lancaster at left

    When leaders of the Variety Club of New England – a charitable organization formed by members of the entertainment community – sought a local scientist whose work offered a promising venue for financial support, they were directed to Farber.

    The club established the Children's Cancer Research Foundation and began funding Farber's small outpatient clinic at Children's Hospital. The foundation's "defining moment" came on the evening of May 22, 1948, when the radio program "Truth or Consequences" introduced the nation to a young cancer patient who was being treated at the clinic.

    (Farber, determined to protect his young patients from exploitation, insisted that the boy be known only as "Jimmy.")

    The broadcast netted nearly a quarter of a million dollars for the Variety Club of New England Children's Cancer Research Foundation, which was renamed the Jimmy Fund.

    Those and other contributions supported the construction of the four-story Jimmy Fund Building, which opened in 1952 at a cost of $1.47 million. What would later become the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute had a state-of-the-art home for laboratories, offices, and the newly created Jimmy Fund Clinic.

    The entire Institute staff in those early years numbered a few hundred. Farber was a dignified man of formal, confident bearing, who had a grandfatherly gentleness with children.

    Colleagues described a figure with a subtle, sometimes sly sense of humor, an immense capacity for work, and an ability to shift from imposing to cajoling to confiding as the situation demanded.

    At more than six feet tall, impeccably dressed in custom-made suits with four-button vests, Farber was very visibly in command of the Institute. Though American through and through, he conveyed a sense of European stateliness: When he walked into a room, whether to deliver a lecture at Harvard Medical School or confer with colleagues, those in attendance would stand. He never demanded such a show of respect; his manner made it implicit.

    Farber's formality did not distance him from the staff, every one of whom he knew by name. "Dr. Farber created an aura about him, but a kindly one," said Antoinette Pieroni, who was the Institute's first full-time social worker. "He didn't call people by their first names – I was always Miss Pieroni – and he spoke very deliberately. He had a very dry sense of humor, too."

    Farber the innovator

    In many respects, Farber was far ahead of his time. Pieroni recalled that when she was hired, Farber told her she was to make rounds with the medical staff every morning and see every new patient in the clinic. Such regular contact between patient and social worker was unheard-of at the time. Today, it is virtually a universal practice.

    In clinical care, one of Farber's innovations sounds as if it could have come out of today's headlines.

    Ted Williams, Tom Yawkey, and Dr. Sidney FarberTed Williams and Tom Yawkey talk baseball with Dr. Farber (1960)

    "He came up with the idea of what is now called 'total care,'" said former Institute President David G. Nathan, MD, who began working with Farber at Children's Hospital in the early 1960s. "He decided that all services for the patient and family – clinical care, nutrition, social work, counseling – should be provided in one place. All decisions should be made as a team. Everyone involved in care giving should plan the treatment together."

    That such an idea should have been conceived by a pathologist – a physician not formally trained in clinical care – only made it more unlikely, not less revolutionary.

    In the mid-1950s, he persuaded Children's Hospital to give him an entire inpatient floor on which to put his principles into practice. The hospital agreed, and it has become the model for pediatric cancer care around the world.

    Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Farber continued to make advances in cancer research, notably the 1955 discovery that the antibiotic actinomycin D and radiation therapy could produce remission in Wilms' tumor, a pediatric cancer of the kidneys. And it was during this period that he took his persuasive powers to a national stage.

    Beginning in the early 1950s, and continuing until his death in 1973, Farber became a star presenter at Congressional hearings on appropriations for cancer research. Animated, with a flair for the dramatic anecdote and poignant case history, Farber made a compelling speaker. He was not given to understatement or half-hearted vagueness.

    "He would tell the senators and representatives that a new treatment looks so promising that an investment of federal support was crucial to bringing down the death rate from cancer," said Emil Frei III, MD, who became Institute director upon Farber's death.

    "He was a medical diplomat," according to Farber's brother Darwin. "He saw that if cancer was going to be conquered, it would require a concerted national effort and a major funding commitment by Congress."

    He was startlingly successful. With Mary Woodard Lasker, a longtime advocate of biomedical research, famed surgeon Michael DeBakey, Senator Lister Hill of Alabama and Congressman John Fogarty of Rhode Island, Farber led a massive expansion in federal spending for cancer research.

    cornerstone ceremony in 1971Cornerstone ceremony (1971) for Dana Cancer Center; left to right, Mrs. Dana, Walter Mann, Dr. Farber, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tom Yawkey, Charles Dana

    Between 1957 and 1967, the annual budget of the National Cancer Institute, the government's primary funder of cancer research, jumped from $48 million to $176 million.

    Meanwhile, Farber was working to expand the Institute's clinical services to adults. "Dr. Farber would say that, in cancer, the child is the father to the man," Frei remarked. "Progress in cancer research at the clinical level almost always occurs in pediatrics first. Many of the treatments we now have for adults are based on what we learned with pediatric patients."

    In 1969, the Institute's charter was expanded to provide services to patients of all ages. Farber was unsuccessful in his effort to recreate at Brigham and Women's Hospital an adult version of the cancer inpatient unit he'd built at Children's Hospital, so he opened one at the Institute itself. (Dana-Farber's inpatient beds moved to Brigham and Women's Hospital in 1997.)

    Farber was always reluctant to forecast a date by which cancer would be cured. "Any man who predicts a date for discovery is no longer a scientist," he said in a 1971 newspaper article. "We have a solid basis of accomplishment in research and treatment to permit controlled optimism and expectation of rapid progress."

    His carefully chosen words belie the fact that the "cure date," whenever it comes, was brought immeasurably closer by the accomplishments he made.

    Milestones in the history of Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund



    Sidney Farber, MD, establishes the Children's Cancer Research Foundation, now Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, introducing the first research program in chemotherapy for children with cancer.


    The Variety Club of New England organizes a radio broadcast from the bedside of a young leukemia patient named "Jimmy" as he is visited by members of the Boston Braves baseball team, owned by Lou Perini. Contributions pour in to buy Jimmy a television set on which to watch the Braves, launching the Jimmy Fund.



    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as Children's Cancer Research Foundation, Inc.

    Construction of the four-story Jimmy Fund Building in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area is completed. In 1958, the building is expanded to eight floors to house research facilities and is renamed the Jimmy Fund Research Laboratories.


    The Boston Red Sox, thanks to team owners Tom and Jean Yawkey, designate the Jimmy Fund as the team's official charity when the Boston Braves move to Milwaukee.


    The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association designates the Jimmy Fund as its official charity.



    The Charles A. Dana Foundation makes the first of several major grants to the Children's Cancer Research Foundation.


    The 1967 Red Sox "Impossible Dream Team" votes to give the Jimmy Fund a share of its winnings from the World Series.


    The Institute's charter is expanded to provide services for both adults and children with cancer.



    Dana-Farber receives federal designation as a regional comprehensive cancer center.

    Drs. Emil Frei III and Stephen Sallan start the first in an ongoing series of clinical trials for children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). These trials, now provided through the DFCI/ALL Consortium, dramatically improve treatment and play a key role in building toward today's cure rates of 85 to 90 percent.

    Dr. Farber dies.


    The Children's Cancer Research Foundation is renamed the Sidney Farber Cancer Center in honor of its founder. Two years later, the name is again modified, becoming the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute.


    The all-volunteer Friends of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is established to raise funds through special events, provide services to Institute patients and sponsor public education programs.


    Drs. Emil Frei III and Norman Jaffe use pre-operative chemotherapy to facilitate the world's first limb-salvage surgeries by Dr. Hugh Watts for children with osteosarcoma. This leads to increased cure rates and improved quality of life.



    Institute President Baruj Benacerraf, MD, receives the Nobel Prize for work that unveiled the genetic underpinnings of the human immune system.

    The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge is founded. This two-day, 192-mile Sturbridge-to-Provincetown ride has grown into the Jimmy Fund's single largest fundraising event.


    The Sidney Farber Cancer Institute is renamed Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in recognition of generous support from the Charles A. Dana Foundation. The new name honors industrialist Charles A. Dana, who shared Dr. Farber's conviction that there is "no such thing as a hopeless case."


    As part of Dana-Farber's 40th anniversary, the first patient reunion is held, uniting cancer survivors and their families for a day of celebration and education.

    The $7.5-million Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research is established with a challenge grant by Institute Trustees J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver to foster innovative research by the Institute's most talented researchers.


    Two out of every three children who enter the Jimmy Fund Clinic are cured.

    The Louis B. Mayer Research Laboratories are opened, providing state-of-the-art facilities to pursue answers to the many questions surrounding cancer.


    Institute physicians, in conjunction with Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy and doctors from other U.S. cancer centers, collaborate with Russian cancer specialists to bring innovative cancer treatments to the Soviet Union.

    The Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk is founded. The event unites thousands of walkers, sponsors, and volunteers to raise funds for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.



    The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge is founded. This event, run in conjunction with the Boston Marathon®, supports the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research.


    Dana-Farber initiates the Women's Cancers Program to reduce the incidence of cancers in women, specifically breast cancer, lung cancer, and gynecological and reproductive cancers. A National Advisory Council of local and national leaders is formed to raise funds and public awareness of the program.

    Dana-Farber establishes the High Risk Research Clinic, one of the nation's first genetic testing programs for members of families with an inherited susceptibility to cancer.


    A chapel is dedicated at Dana-Farber, providing a spiritual sanctuary for patients, families and staff members.

    The Jimmy Fund honors longtime supporter Ted Williams by forming the Ted Williams 406 Club, named after the former Red Sox slugger's 1941 batting average.


    The Eleanor and Maxwell Blum Patient and Family Resource Center opens.

    The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge passes the $1 million mark with 400 participants running in the 100th Boston Marathon.


    The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Research Laboratories, housed in a new 12-story building devoted to cancer research, are dedicated. The nearly 270,000-square-foot building provides space for more than 500 Dana-Farber researchers, state-of-the-art laboratories, an expanded library, parking and specialized research centers.

    The Institute's Inpatient Hospital moves to its new location within Brigham and Women's Hospital. The Institute opens several floors of new clinics in the Dana building dedicated primarily to adult outpatient care.


    Dana-Farber welcomes back the original "Jimmy," 62-year-old Carl Einar Gustafson, who, as a 12-year-old patient of Institute founder Sidney Farber, MD, helped launch the Jimmy Fund in 1948.

    Dana-Farber opens its first on-site radiation therapy center, used primarily for patients being treated in the Gillette Center for Women's Cancers.

    The Institute establishes the nation's first Adult Patient and Family Advisory Council. This Council has become a model for other centers to involve patients and their families in developing the highest standard of comprehensive and compassionate health care.


    The Institute announces the formation of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, which places the Institute at the hub of cancer research within the Harvard medical community.



    The Institute formalizes its 50-year-plus affiliation with Children's Hospital with the creation of Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Care.


    Reflecting a focus on translational research, the Center for Experimental Medicine at Dana-Farber is established. The center coordinates the Institute's efforts to convert laboratory advances into better treatments for patients.


    The Lance Armstrong Foundation Adult Survivorship Clinic opens with a focus on the needs of adult patients in the years after cancer treatment. Established with a grant from the foundation of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, the center is part of the Perini Family Survivors' Center at Dana-Farber.


    In recognition of the excellence of Dana-Farber nursing care, the American Nurses Credentialing Center bestows Magnet designation on Dana-Farber. Considered the highest achievement in nursing care, the award makes Dana-Farber the fourth "Magnet" hospital in Massachusetts and one of only 150 worldwide.


    In the largest single gift in Dana-Farber's history, longtime Institute trustees and benefactors Richard A. and Susan F. Smith pledge to make an unrestricted gift of $50 million to Dana-Farber, which enables the Institute to begin construction of a new center for cancer care and clinical research on Brookline Avenue.


    Construction begins on the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center's second satellite outpatient clinic, located at Milford Regional Medical Center, 35 miles southwest of Boston. Opening in 2008, the two-story, 54,000-square-foot facility offers chemotherapy infusion, radiation therapy, and diagnostic imaging to adult cancer patients.


    In December, Dana-Farber opens a new medical oncology outpatient unit in Londonderry, New Hampshire. The new unit, Dana-Farber/New Hampshire Oncology-Hematology, offers clinical trials, pain management and palliative care, genetic screening, a resource room, social work, nutritional counseling, and a survivorship program.


    Advanced radiation therapy equipment that enables doctors to treat small tumors with an unprecedented degree of precision goes into clinical use at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The stereotactic body radiosurgery system combines the latest radiation-delivery machinery with imaging technology for mapping the exact contours and location of tumors within the body.



    Dana-Farber successfully completes the largest capital campaign in its history, raising $1.18 billion for cancer research and care, new technology, and construction of the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care. The total makes Dana-Farber the first hospital in New England to set and reach the $1 billion mark in a capital campaign.

    Surgeons at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center pioneer the use of robotic technology in laparoscopic surgery on women with endometrial cancer.


    Dana-Farber officially dedicates the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, the Institute's new home for adult patient care and clinical research. The state-of-the-art facility, designed with extensive input from patients and their families, quickly wins plaudits from patients, staff, visitors, and the architectural community.


    The Dana-Farber Community Cancer Center and Lawrence + Memorial Cancer Center break ground for a 47,000 square-foot clinical facility in Waterford, Conn. The $34.5 million cancer center, which will feature medical and radiation oncology programs, is slated to open September 2013.

    Dana-Farber opens a community cancer clinic at the Whittier Street Health Center in Boston's Roxbury section. The clinic features exam rooms, large consult and meeting areas, and a patient resource room, and is believed to be the country's first dedicated oncology space in an inner-city clinic.

    Officials including former President Bill Clinton inaugurate the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence in northern Rwanda, a facility created through a collaborative effort by the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, Partners in Health, and the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation. The first facility to bring comprehensive cancer care to rural East Africa, the center will be visited by Dana-Farber nurse fellows, who will instruct local nurses in cancer care techniques.


    The Dana-Farber community loses one of its most distinguished and influential figures with the death of Emil "Tom" Frei III, MD. Frei, 89 years old at the time of his passing, was Dana-Farber physician-in-chief from 1972 to 1985 and is known as the "father of combination chemotherapy" for demonstrating the effectiveness of multiple drug agents to treat cancer.


    The Institute receives a $30 million gift from Albert A. Marcotte, PhD, which helps expand research and clinical facilities, and creates the Marcotte Center for Cancer Research at Dana-Farber.

    The Institute announces two initiatives to expand its network of clinical care facilities in the region. The first is a partnership in which Dana-Farber will provide hematology and medical oncology care services at Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. The second is the acquisition of Commonwealth Hematology-Oncology (CHO), the largest community-based cancer care program in New England. With the purchase, CHO is renamed Dana-Farber Community Cancer Care.


    The first of a dozen Dana-Farber laboratories begin moving into the Longwood Center, a state-of-the-art research facility at the corner of Longwood and Brookline avenues.

    After two and a half years of planning and preparation, the comprehensive electronic health and administrative record system Epic goes live at Dana-Farber and partnering Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Plans call for the system to be implemented across the Partners HealthCare System by 2017.

    The Molecular Cancer Imaging Facility opens on Dana-Farber’s Harbor Campus. The center houses a cyclotron that generates short-lived radioactive isotopes that enable researchers to study the behavior of anti-cancer drugs in the body without resorting to invasive procedures such as biopsies.

    Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, an internationally recognized immunologist, is named the next president and CEO of Dana-Farber. The Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of the Medical College at Weill Cornell Medicine at the time of her selection, she previously headed one of the top immunology programs in the world at Harvard Medical School. Taking office in October, she becomes the Institute’s seventh president and the first woman to hold the position.

    The Helen Gurley Brown Presidential Initiative at Dana-Farber kicks off with the naming of five pairs of female junior and senior faculty researchers. The initiative, named for the longtime editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, supports the research of young women scientists and expands mentoring opportunities for women scientific leaders. The senior researchers supervise the younger investigators in projects of particular scientific promise.

    The Dana-Farber Cancer Care Collaborative welcomes two new members: Stamford (Conn.) Hospital’s Carl & Dorothy Bennett Cancer Center joins the partnership in July, and Eastern Maine Medical Center Cancer Care at the Lafayette Cancer Center in Brewer, Maine, joins in November. The Institute further expands its reach by signing a letter of intent with Lifespan Health System to enter into a partnership in Rhode Island.

    Advances in Patient Care and Research at Dana-Farber

    1940s and 1950s

    In 1947, Sidney Farber, MD, establishes the Children's Cancer Research Foundation, now Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, introducing the first research program in chemotherapy for children with cancer.

    Dr. Farber and his team of clinicians and laboratory scientists are the first to use chemotherapy to attain temporary remissions of acute lymphocytic leukemia in children. Research that transfers new scientific knowledge "from the lab bench to the patient bedside" forms the foundation for future progress against cancer at the Institute.

    Dr. Farber and colleagues achieve the first remissions in Wilms' tumor of the kidney, a common form of childhood cancer. By employing the antibiotic actinomycin D in addition to surgery and radiation therapy, they boost cure rates from 40 to 85 percent.


    Researchers develop means to collect, preserve and transfuse blood-clotting factors called platelets to control bleeding, a critical step to combating this common side effect of cancer chemotherapy.


    Studies involving pediatric and adult patients continue to demonstrate the effectiveness of using multiple drugs to cure many forms of cancer. Foundation leaders help to pioneer this strategy, known as combination chemotherapy.

    Through more effective chemotherapy, researchers raise cure rates for some forms of adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to 60 percent.

    Researchers increase the cure rate for a bone cancer known as osteogenic sarcoma from less than 15 percent to more than 60 percent. Use of chemotherapy in addition to surgery and/or radiation therapy reduces many tumors to operable size and may even render surgery unnecessary.

    Researchers develop a combination therapy program for soft-tissue sarcomas, resulting in a 50 percent response rate.

    By employing drugs in novel combinations, investigators improve survival for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, breast cancer and advanced testicular cancer. They also report the first cures for acute myelogenous leukemia and large cell lymphoma.

    Researchers clone the gene RAS and demonstrate that, when mutated, this gene – the first known human oncogene – helps spur development of many common human tumors.


    Having developed monoclonal antibodies to purge cancer cells from bone marrow, physician-researchers pioneer autologous ("self") bone marrow transplantation as a treatment for childhood leukemia. This procedure enables patients to tolerate extremely high doses of chemotherapy and radiation formulated to eradicate their disease.

    Institute researchers employ autologous bone marrow transplantation to treat other cancers of the blood and immune system, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

    Researchers help identify the gene RB-1, essential for preventing retinoblastoma, a rare inheritable cancer of the eye, and shed light on how it works. The growth-controlling role of RB-1 and other "tumor-suppressor" genes in more common forms of cancer becomes the focus of scrutiny worldwide.

    Researchers discover the first evidence that growth-related signaling pathways are composed of multiple oncogene products.

    Dana-Farber's Breast Evaluation Center is established. Through this innovative clinic – a model for breast centers nationwide – oncologists, radiation therapists, surgeons, pathologists and other specialists work to advance breast cancer detection and treatment.

    Researchers introduce the CA-125 blood test for monitoring the progress of ovarian cancer patients undergoing treatment. Later researchers devise a similar test for breast cancer, DF-3.

    Dana-Farber immunologists identify the human T cell receptor, a complex of molecules that enable immune cells to recognize foreign invaders.

    Immunologists develop means to detect protein markers called antigens on immune cells, making it possible to identify different immune-cell cancers and devise specific treatments for them.

    Researchers show the immune system is turned "on" by helper T cells and "off" by suppressor T cells. The AIDS virus infects and destroys helper T cells, eventually rendering its host defenseless against disease.

    Dana-Farber researchers identify a growth-controlling hormone called platelet-derived growth factor, or PDGF, believed to play a role in wound healing, and they implicate PDGF in a complex cascade of genetic interactions that lead to cancer.

    Half of patients with head and neck cancers with a poor prognosis prove responsive to an aggressive program of chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery developed by Institute researchers and their collaborators.

    As of the late 1980s, two of every three children who enter the Jimmy Fund Clinic walk out cured, and more than half of all people with cancer are cured.

    Dana-Farber researchers are among the first to suspect a relationship between the retrovirus that causes human T cell leukemia (HTLV–1) and the one that causes AIDS (HIV–1).

    The multidisciplinary Brain Tumor Clinic is established in 1989 to accelerate progress against brain cancers in children and adults.

    Researchers at Dana-Farber and their collaborators discover a cell-surface molecule that serves as the point of entry for viruses responsible for the common cold.

    Institute scientists help pioneer development of a new generation of anti-cancer drugs, called immunotoxins, which deliver a potent poison to cancer cells via monoclonal antibodies, leaving normal cells unscathed.

    Institute researchers help introduce the use of naturally occurring growth factors to spur recovery of bone marrow following high-dose chemotherapy. To make bone marrow transplantation safer and more effective, they substitute for bone marrow a potent combination of young bone marrow cells (stem cells) and growth factors that spur their maturation.


    Pointing to a flaw in the gene p53, researchers demonstrate that a susceptibility to developing cancer can be passed from one generation to the next. The gene is discovered in families afflicted by the rare Li-Fraumeni syndrome, in which family members are at very high risk for tumors of the adrenal gland, breast, brain and soft tissues.

    Dana-Farber and Sandoz Pharmaceutical Corporation (now known as Novartis) enter into a novel long-term collaboration to develop a new generation of potent anti-tumor agents based on scientists' understanding of the molecular missteps that lead to cancer.

    The Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic is created in 1992 to advance the early detection and prevention of breast cancer in women at high risk for the disease.

    In 1993, the Women's Cancers Program is launched at Dana-Farber. This initiative aims to reduce the incidence of cancers of the breast, lung and gynecological and reproductive systems by bridging the gap between petri dish and patient.

    Dana-Farber establishes the High Risk Research Clinic, one of the nation's first genetic testing programs for members of families with an inherited susceptibility to cancer. The program aims to identify individuals at risk and provide genetic and psychological counseling.

    Scientists discover a group of genes that raise susceptibility to a common inherited form of colon cancer and several other malignancies. The finding reveals an entirely new mechanism for cancer's development. It also raises hopes for saving thousands of lives by screening individuals at high risk for the disease.

    Scientists at Dana-Farber find a relationship between a small, repeating section of DNA and the aggressiveness of prostate cancer. The finding may lead to diagnostic tests capable of determining which patients can benefit from surgery or other treatment options, and which are best served by "watchful waiting."

    Dana-Farber opens the Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, making complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and meditation available to patients while conducting formal research into such therapies' effectiveness.

    Researchers at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women's Hospital report that a diabetes drug can cause tumor cells in one variety of liposarcoma – a fat cell cancer – to grow more slowly. It is the first time scientists have succeeded in causing solid tumor cells to mature, or "differentiate, " to behave more like normal cells.

    Building on insights into the functioning of the human immune system, Institute researchers devise a way to neutralize immune system cells responsible for graft-versus-host-disease, a potentially dangerous side effect of organ and tissue transplants. The discovery points toward the creation of a universal donor pool for organ and tissue transplantation and may one-day free transplant recipients from the need to take powerful anti-rejection drugs.


    Dana-Farber researchers and colleagues at affiliated hospitals announce the results of the first human study of Endostatin™ Protein, a drug that seeks to reduce tumors by cutting off their blood supply. The investigators report that the drug is safe even in high doses and that in some cases it halted the progress of advanced cancers.

    Investigators studying a rare disease called Fanconi anemia discover that genes linked to the disorder are involved in switching on BRCA1, a gene that, when defective, is the most common source of inherited breast cancer.

    Dana-Farber researchers find that Gleevec, a targeted therapy that achieved striking success against chronic myelogenous leukemia, can shrink and even eliminate tumors in some patients with a rare and otherwise incurable digestive-tract cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

    Scientists at Dana-Farber and the Whitehead Institute find a gene "signature" in several types of tumors that suggest they are likely to spread to other parts of the body, potentially leading to tests for determining whether tumors have the potential to metastasize.

    Dana-Farber scientists report that the drug gefitinib produces dramatic benefits in non-small cell lung cancer patients who carry an abnormal version of a key protein, a potentially life-saving discovery for tens of thousands of patients around the world every year.


    Aiming to overcome some of the longstanding barriers to the creation of new Cancer therapies, Dana-Farber opens the Center for Applied Cancer Science. By working closely with scientists in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, the center hopes to speed the process by which research advances are converted into clinic-ready treatments.

    Picking up where the map of the human genome leaves off, a group of Dana-Farber scientists opens the Center for Cancer Systems Biology, which studies how genes act together in controlling the lives of cells. By tracking such activity networks, researchers hope to understand how genes work in concert, and how they are disrupted in cancer cells.


    The Institute inaugurates the Patient Navigators program to help patients from underserved populations receive care and support at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center.

    Dana-Farber researchers identify a molecular mechanism in the liver that explains how eating foods rich in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids causes elevated blood levels of so-called "bad" cholesterol and triglicerides, increasing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. The discovery may be a first step toward drugs capable of "turning down" the mechanism and lowing the chances of heart disease.

    Research in the laboratory and in animal models by investigators at Dana-Farber and Novartis Pharma AG identifies a compound that is 20 times more potent than the much-heralded drug Gleevec against chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). If effective in human patients, the compound, called AMN107, may produce longer remissions than Gleevec and be active in patients who have relapsed after taking Gleevec.


    Dana-Farber scientists discover that p53, one of the best-known tumor-suppressing proteins in human cells, also prompts skin to tan in response to exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. Because tanned skin is less susceptible to melanoma, creams or lotions that cause p53 or other proteins to initiate the tanning process might help protect at-risk people from the disease.

    An international team led by researchers at Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard produces a comprehensive map of the "molecular landscape" of lung cancer, identifying 50 sites on the chromosomes of lung cancer patients that are genetically different from those in healthy individuals. About two thirds of these sites harbor genes that hadn't previously been suspected as playing a role in the disease.


    Dana-Farber scientists achieve a medical first: using a "targeted" drug to drive a patient's metastatic melanoma into remission. When lab tests showed the patient's tumor cells harbored a certain mutated gene, doctors treated her with a drug that blocks the gene's action. The result: a dramatic reduction in tumor size and activity.


    Dana-Farber researchers engineer lab-grown mouse and human cells to produce brown fat, a natural energy-burning type of fat that counteracts obesity. Use of the technique in people could provide a new approach to treating obesity and diabetes.

    A scientific team led by Dana-Farber researchers identifies a group of normal human antibodies that neutralize the vast majority of flu viruses known to cause disease in people. Copying these natural proteins to produce vast numbers of identical, "monoclonal" antibodies could give doctors and public health officials a powerful new weapon against virus transmission and flu outbreaks.



    Results of a Dana-Farber-led clinical trial lead to federal approval of Provenge, the first therapeutic cancer vaccine.

    By switching on a dormant enzyme in prematurely aged mice, Dana-Farber researchers restore a measure of youthfulness to the animals, enlarging the mice's brains, increasing their fertility, and reviving their lost sense of smell. The work represents the first time such aging reversal has been achieved in animals, although researchers caution it is not applicable to humans at present.

    Tweaking a single gene in sedentary mice can produce heart-strengthening effects similar to those achieved by two weeks of endurance training, Dana-Farber investigators report. The findings may point to future strategies for repairing injured hearts through muscle regeneration.

    Scientists at Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute launch Project Achilles, an effort to determine which of the many gene mutations in cancer cells actually drive the cancer process.


    In studies with mice, Dana-Farber scientists identify the root molecular cause of a variety of ills brought on by advanced age, such as waning energy, failure of the heart and other organs, and metabolic disorders like diabetes. The scientists find such age-related conditions result from malfunctioning telomeres, the end-caps of cells' chromosomes that provide protection from DNA damage.

    Research by Dana-Farber scientists provides new evidence that high-grade serous ovarian cancer — the fifth-deadliest cancer among American women — originates in the fallopian tubes rather than the ovaries. Proof that the disease indeed begins in the fallopian tubes may improve early detection and treatment strategies.

    Challenging a half-century-old theory that chemotherapy works by targeting fast-dividing cells, Dana-Farber researchers report that chemotherapy agents are most effective against tumors that are already “primed” for death. The researchers find that cancer cells on the verge of self-destructing are especially vulnerable to chemotherapy — a discovery that may make it possible to predict which cancer patients are most likely to benefit from certain chemo agents.

    Collaborating scientists at Dana-Farber and Boston Children's Hospital report that a combination of two drugs may alleviate radiation sickness in people who have been exposed to high levels of radiation, even if the therapy is given a day after exposure occurred. The finding suggests that the two-drug regimen could become a mainstay of the public health response to events such as a nuclear power plant accident or a nuclear terror attack.

    Officials launch Profile, a research program that enables all adult patients treated at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center to have their tumor tissue scanned for genetic mutations known or suspected of being linked to cancer. The results of the scans will provide data for studies that seek to improve the effectiveness, safety, and precision of future cancer treatments.


    Dana-Farber scientists discover a type of fat cell, known as "beige fat," in mice. Such cells can, under certain conditions, burn energy to make heat. Researchers suggest that further study of beige fat might lead to new treatments for obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for cancer.

    A compound developed by Dana-Farber researchers to block a cancer-causing gene shows promise in animal tests at Baylor College of Medicine as a potential male contraceptive.

    Researchers identify three subtypes of high-grade serous ovarian cancer — the most common cancer of the ovary — based on the extent of a particular kind of genetic damage with the cells. Patients with the highest degree of such damage generally have the best response to standard chemotherapy, the investigators find.


    Scientists at Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute provide the most detailed look yet at how genetic mutations within chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells (CLL) can shift over time. The changes help explain why CLL often recurs after treatment and may provide a road map to the development of better therapies for the disease.

    Using specially developed mathematical models, researchers find that many men with low-risk, localized prostate cancers can safely forego immediate treatment in favor of active surveillance or watchful waiting. This approach can spare many men unnecessary treatment and reduce health-care costs, the investigators report.

    Although women who survive childhood cancer face an increased risk of infertility, Dana-Farber researchers find that nearly two-thirds of those who tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for at least a year eventually conceived — comparable to the rate of eventual pregnancy for all clinically infertile women.


    Dana-Farber scientists report promising findings in the search for treatments for cachexia, a fat- and muscle-wasting condition that affects about half of all cancer patients. In studies involving mice with lung tumors, the researchers find that a key antibody can alleviate or prevent symptoms of cachexia in the animals.

    Researchers at Dana-Farber and allied institutions report that the drug nivolumab, which unleashes an immune system attack on cancer, can produce lasting remissions and hold advanced melanoma in check for more than two years in many patients with the disease.

    In a phase I clinical trial led by Dana-Farber investigators, a new targeted agent shrinks tumors in about half of non-small cell lung cancer patients whose tumors no longer respond to conventional targeted drugs. The drug, which targets a mutation in the EGFR gene, produces markedly fewer side effects than other targeted therapies for this type of lung cancer.

    A team of scientists including Dana-Farber researchers identifies four subtypes of stomach cancer, each with a shared set of gene mutations or other genetic abnormalities. The findings may pave the way for clinical trials of drugs that target the newly identified subtypes.


    Dana-Farber scientists develop a test for determining which drugs are most likely to be effective against particular tumors. The test measures how vigorously tumor cells turn on “self-destruct” signals in response to different cancer drugs. Researchers say the test could lead to more reliable and rapid tools for personalizing cancer treatment to individual patients.

    A novel blood test developed by Dana-Farber scientists can help first responders triage victims of radiation accidents by indicating which are likely to survive, which are likely to die, and which should receive immediate medical countermeasures. The test measures substances in the blood that register the effect of radiation on bone marrow and organ function.

    Heralding a new, more potent form of targeted therapy, researchers devise a technique that destroys, rather than merely disables, cancer-related proteins in tumor cells. The strategy uses tumor cells’ own protein-chopping machinery to break down and dispose of proteins that drive cancer growth. When tested in laboratory samples of leukemia cells and in animals with human-like leukemia, the approach caused cancer cells to die much more quickly than with conventional targeted therapies.


    Researchers at Dana-Farber and Boston Children’s Hospital become the first to watch a cancer spread from a single cell in a live animal, discovering a critical step in the process that turns a cancer-prone cell into a malignant one. The researchers find that cancer begins after a cancer-causing gene is activated or a cancer-suppressing gene is lost, causing a single cell to revert to the state of a stem cell, which can give rise to multiple cell types. The research, done in zebrafish, offers a new set of therapeutic targets and could help revive a half-century-old theory known as “field cancerization,” which holds that large swaths of cells in a tissue or organ are affected by cancer-causing alterations.

    Children with high-risk neuroblastoma whose treatment included two autologous stem cell transplants were more likely to be free of cancer three years later than patients who underwent a single transplant, a Phase 3 clinical trial led by Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center investigators finds. The tandem transplant technique, developed by researchers at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s in the 1990s, produced even better results when followed by treatment with immunotherapy agents.

    In a possible breakthrough against breast cancer that has spread to the brain, Dana-Farber researchers report that a combination of targeted therapies drove HER2-positive breast cancer brain metastases into long-term remissions in mice. If successful in clinical trials involving patients with brain-metastatic breast cancer, the two-drug therapy could offer one of the first effective treatments for the condition.

    Repeated doses of an immunotherapy drug can restore complete remissions in some patients with advanced blood cancers who had relapsed after undergoing a stem cell transplant, Dana-Farber investigators report. The finding, from a clinical trial involving patients with relapsed leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma, suggests that the strategy could potentially prevent such relapses in the future.

    A personalized vaccine developed by researchers at Dana-Farber and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center produces compelling results in a clinical trial involving patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The vaccine stimulated powerful immune responses against the patients’ AML cells and protected a majority of the patients from relapsing.

    Testing blood for a key protein can help identify patients who are likely to benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors, one of the most promising forms of cancer immunotherapy, Dana-Farber researchers report. The researchers found that blood levels of angiopoietin-2, a protein involved in blood vessel formation, were a gauge of how well patients with metastatic melanoma responded to checkpoint inhibitors.

    One-third of patients with metastatic melanoma treated with the immunotherapy drug nivolumab in a Phase 1 clinical trial have survived for five years, according to a report from Dana-Farber researchers. This five-year survival rate is double the rate for similar patients diagnosed between 2005 and 2011, and who were not treated with immunotherapy.

    Important Developments in Dana-Farber's AIDS Research Program

    Dana-Farber scientists have been at the forefront of the battle against AIDS since the early 1980s, when the disease was first identified.

    In 1989, the Institute was designated by the National Institutes of Health as a Center for AIDS Research, and in 1999 it teamed with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Children's Hospital to create the DFCI/BIDMC/CH Center for AIDS Research.

    Over the past 30 years, Dana-Farber has been the site of key discoveries into the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) and the mechanism by which it infects and reproduces in immune system cells. Insights from this work have generated an array of new strategies for blocking the spread of AIDS and treating those with the disease.

    Areas where Dana-Farber scientists have made key advances:

    • CD4 and CCR5, molecules on immune system cells used by HIV-1 to gain entry to human cells. Dana-Farber investigators demonstrated that a free-floating synthetic version of CD4 can stop the replication of HIV-1 and prevent virally infected cells from latching onto healthy cells. Institute scientists also created a three-dimensional image of CD4 to help identify substances could block the attachment of HIV-1 to certain white blood cells.
    • HIV-1's genetic instructions. Scientists discovered that the virus uses a protein called Tat to activate its genes.
    • Anti-AIDS drugs. Investigators discovered that the drug AZT prevents replication of HIV-1 and causes no birth defects in pregnant mice infected with the virus.
    • The HIV-1 "envelope" protein that encircles the virus. Researchers found that a specific portion of the envelope protein gp120 could be targeted to generate antibodies to block infection by all strains of the AIDS virus. Invetigators at Dana-Farber and Columbia University generated the first three-dimensional picture of gp120.
    • Immune system impact. Investigators demonstrated that HIV-1 envelope proteins' ability to disrupt cellular membranes is responsible for the destruction of the host cell by the virus.Researchers also showed that HIV infection induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) in brain cell specimens grown in the laboratory.
    • HIV transmission. In collaboration with other scientists, Dana-Farber researchers created the first animal model to study how the AIDS virus damages the immune system of a fetus and how virus transmission from mothers to their unborn children, either during pregnancy or during birth, can be prevented.
    • HIV replication. Researchers developed a system by which antibodies deliver therapeutic genes to cells by binding to surface receptors. The system is an important step toward the development of a gene therapy for HIV-1 infected patients.
    • New drug therapies. Scientists find that an experimental AIDS vaccine that looked promising in adult monkeys proved deadly to newborn monkeys. These findings dampen researchers' hopes that a vaccine made from a weakened form of the AIDS virus might become available in the near future, but redirect scientists toward alternative vaccine strategies that may in the long run prove successful.
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