Milestones in Cancer Research

Architectural rendering of the Masonic Cancer Research Building Completed Masonic Cancer Research Building

From pioneering the establishment of a new subspecialty of medical oncology in 1972 at the University of Minnesota to the world's first successful bone marrow transplant for malignant lymphoma in 1975, cancer research and treatment has a long and proud history at the University of Minnesota. Highlights of Masonic Cancer Center's history are detailed below. 


Lee W. Wattenberg, M.D., who launched the field of chemoprevention, was honored with the American Association of Cancer Research Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Prevention Research.

The Masonic Cancer Center’s Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., and Eric Donny, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, received a $41 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to discover the threshold of nicotine addiction with the goal of determining the best approach to reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes and the public and personal costs of smoking.

The Eugene C. and Gail V. Sit Chair in Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Cancer Research was established.

The Children's Cancer Research Fund/Suzanne Holmes Hodder Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research was established.

The University of Minnesota celebrated the opening of the "gateway to the Biomedical Discovery District," the new Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building (CCRB).

The first Phase 1 clinical trial to test Minnelide, a University of Minnesota-developed drug that has successfully disrupted pancreatic cancer development in laboratory tests, is launched.

Masonic Cancer Center members manufacture and test a novel new drug to treat lymphoma.

Masonic Cancer Center members discover that the enzyme APOBEC3B fuels cancer formation and growth

The Masonic Cancer Center’s designation as a comprehensive cancer center was renewed by the National Cancer Institute after a highly competitive and rigorous process. The cancer center was awarded close to $20 million over the next five years

With compelling evidence on the link between tanning bed use and melanoma from Masonic Cancer Center researchers, the Minnesota Legislature makes a law that prohibits minors from using indoor tanning beds.


A state-of-the-art Phase I clinical trial facility was opened as a result of a multi-organizational partnership that includes University of Minnesota Health, University of Minnesota Physicians, the Masonic Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office, and the U’s Clinical Translational Research Institute.

Masonic Cancer Center researchers publish results of a national clinical trial showing that low-nicotine cigarettes may help smokers quit.

Reuben Harris, Ph.D, was selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as an HHMI Investigator and will receive the flexible support necessary to progress his research in creative new directions.

Jeffrey Miller, M.D., was named a National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator and awarded a seven-year, $600,000 grant to support his research.


With $10 million in support from Minnesota Masonic Charities’ Partners for Life campaign, the Masonic Cancer Clinic moved to the new, state-of-the-art University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center.

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Masonic Cancer Center physicians perform the first successful double cord blood transplant.

The John C. Skoglund Chair in Lung Cancer was established.

A University of Minnesota study led by Masonic Cancer Center researchers is the first to detect tobacco-specific carcinogens in non-smokers in public settings.

The following endowed chairs for cancer research were established:

  • The Hedberg Family/Children's Cancer Research Fund Chair for Brain Tumor Research
  • The Dougherty Family Chair in Uro-Oncology
  • Hageboeck Family/Children's Cancer Research Fund Chair

The following endowed chairs in cancer research were established:

  • Hageboeck Family/Children's Cancer Research Fund Chair
  • Wurtele Family Professorship in Therapeutic Radiology-Radiation Oncology

The following endowed chairs for cancer research were established:

  • Roger L. & Lynn C. Headrick Family Chair in Cancer Therapeutics
  • John H. Kersey Chair in Cancer Research
  • Cloverfields Professorship in Clinical Scholarship in Prostate Cancer

Douglas Yee, M.D., is named director of the Cancer Center. A national expert in breast cancer research and treatment, Dr. Yee joined the University in 1999 and is only the second director, succeeding Dr. Kersey.

The Minnesota Legislature enacts the Freedom to Breathe Act, which bans smoking in public places, backed by hard facts from Masonic Cancer Center researchers showing that tobacco-specific carcinogens are detectable in nonsmokers exposed to smoke in public settings.

Minnesota Masonic Charities, the philanthropic arm of Minnesota Masonry, donated a record breaking $65 million to the University for cancer research. In recognition of this gift, the University of Minnesota Cancer Center was renamed the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

The Regis Chair in Breast Cancer Research was established.

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The University of Minnesota's Board of Regents approved the establishment of a cancer center as part of the University's Academic Health Center, naming John Kersey, M.D. as director.

The following endowed chairs in cancer research were created:

  • The Winston R. and Maxine He. Wallin Chair in Cancer Prevention
  • The Tickle Family Land Grant Chair for Breast Cancer
  • The Shirley A. Sparboe Endowed Chair in Women's Cancer Research

The Masonic Cancer Center takes a leading role in the NCI-funded Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, designed to track and minimize harmful long-term health effects of cancer and its treatment.

The Schering Land Grant Chair in Cancer Research was established.

The Seymour H. Levitt Clinical Radiation Oncology Chair was established.

With a lead gift of $5 million from Minnesota Masonic Charities and contributions from many other community supporters, the newly built Masonic Cancer Research Building, located on East River Parkway, had its Grand Opening in April, with a goal to provide a collaborative research environment focused on the causes, prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer.

The following endowed chairs in cancer research were created:

  • B.J. Kennedy Chair in Clinical Medical Oncology
  • John P. Delaney Chair in Clinical Surgical Oncology
  • Lehman Family/Children's Cancer Research Fund Chair

Masonic Cancer Center researchers find and modify an ancient inactivated fish gene to move segments of DNA in mammalian cells. This “Sleeping Beauty” gene allows scientists to modify genetic defects and identify new cancer-causing genes.

University of Minnesota Cancer Center is designated a Comprehensive Cancer
Center by the National Cancer Institute for cancer research, treatment, and education.
Only 49 institutions in the United States hold this highest-level designation.

The following endowed chairs in cancer research were established:

  • Roby Thompson Chair in Musculoskeletal Oncology
  • Andersen Chair in Stem Cell Biology
  • Andersen Chair in Transplantation Immunology
  • Apogee Enterprises Endowed Chair in Cancer Research

- See more at: Milestones in Cancer Research