Newswise — The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has renewed the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center's designation and continued grant support as one of the nation's top research and treatment facilities for another five years. This renewal of its status as a "Comprehensive Cancer Center" comes five decades after its original NCI designation.

As the lead federal agency devoted to cancer research and training, the NCI recognizes cancer facilities around the country that meet rigorous standards for transdisciplinary, state-of-the-art research. Each center’s work must be focused on developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer, which is the nation’s second leading cause of death.

An NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation is the highest honor an American cancer center can receive. The status is awarded only to institutions with a demonstrated ability to perform the highest quality research that leads to major shifts in cancer care. Of the 72 NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the U.S., only 56 are considered “comprehensive,” including UChicago Medicine.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers must also demonstrate depth and breadth in population-based research to elucidate the determinants of cancer, including the dissemination of clinical and public health advances to reduce the disease's burden in the communities the centers serve.

“As one of only two NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Illinois, we’ve demonstrated the depth and breadth of our cancer research and treatment as well as our deep-seated commitment to reducing the burden of cancer on the South Side,” said Mark Anderson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Biological Sciences Division at the University of Chicago. “Advancing the science of cancer treatment and prevention through our clinical trials, innovative therapies and focus on improving health equity is a commitment we’ve made to our community — one we will continue to honor for generations to come.”

UChicago Medicine was among the first organizations in the country to earn NCI designation in 1973. That followed the implementation of the 1971 National Cancer Act, which established the National Cancer Centers Program as an anchor of the country’s cancer research efforts.

High Impact Score

A Comprehensive Cancer Center designation is accompanied by access to federal grant funding that supports research, provides developmental funds to advance scientific goals and fosters cancer programs that draw investigators together from different disciplines.

To ensure organizations maintain the designation and funding, NCI conducts reviews every five years to assess a center’s laboratory and clinical research, transdisciplinary programs that bridge scientific areas, and education and outreach capabilities.

In their most recent review, conducted during a site visit in August 2023, the NCI team gave the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center a “high impact” rating, acknowledging its strengths in basic research and strong translational and clinical research. Reviewers cited examples of impact on the community, policy and global health.

In addition, NCI reviewers said the Comprehensive Cancer Center’s research programs are integrally linked to strong training programs with added emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Reviewers said, "With the impressive progress achieved, the UCCCC is on a tremendous trajectory anticipated to continue producing impactful science, training a diverse workforce, addressing the catchment area’s needs, while also impacting policy and global health.”

Reviewers said they were also impressed by the progress made while the center transitioned to a new director Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, who joined UChicago Medicine in March 2021. The overall merit descriptor was “outstanding to exceptional.”

"This accomplishment is a true reflection of the dedication and hard work put in by our Cancer Center faculty and staff,” said Odunsi, who is the AbbVie Foundation Distinguished Service Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecologic Oncology and Dean of Oncology in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago Medicine. “We have made significant progress during the most recent grant cycle and will work to build on this solid foundation to further reduce the burden of cancer in our communities and accelerate life-saving cancer discoveries."

Decades of Cancer Research Leadership

UChicago Medicine is planning a series of activities throughout 2024 to celebrate the five-decade milestone and reflect on the health system’s long history of cancer treatment and discovery. Events include alumni guest lectures, an educational symposium, a podcast series and several community events.

“Celebrating this important milestone presents a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge how far we’ve come over 50 years and to build excitement as we chart a course for the future with faculty, staff and trainees,” said M. Eileen Dolan, PhD, Deputy Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

UChicago Medicine physician-scientists helped pioneer cancer treatments that have increased the number of cancer survivors in the United States and improved the quality of patients’ lives. Seminal UChicago discoveries led to the development and introduction of many cancer treatments used today, such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, gene therapy and bone marrow transplantation.

"Fifty years after we first received NCI designation, our scientists and clinicians are still expanding the boundaries of knowledge and transforming cancer care and prevention,” Odunsi said. “I’m particularly excited for the transformational work I know will come from our laboratories and clinics in the next 50 years.”

Cancer Care Reimagined

The year will conclude with a celebratory event exploring how the fight against cancer will likely evolve over the next half century — and the role UChicago Medicine will play. The academic health system is building the state’s first standalone structure dedicated to cancer care and research.

The 575,000-square-foot, seven-story pavilion, which is expected to open in 2027, will provide patients and the South Side community with access to the newest diagnostic innovations and leading-edge therapies.

“This project shows our commitment to the future of cancer care and dedication to bringing innovative cancer research to the South Side of Chicago, where healthcare disparities are among the worst in the nation and residents are twice as likely to die from cancer as people living in the rest of the country,” Odunsi said. “We will leverage our location on the UChicago campus and our over 50-year status as an NCI-designated Cancer Center and newest member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network to answer cancer’s hardest questions, bring new therapies from discovery to patients, deliver the care our community needs and, ultimately, save lives.”

The UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center serves more than 8.5 million residents in a diverse five-county area in northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana. More than 7,500 patients a year are diagnosed with or treated for cancer at the South Side Chicago-based academic health system, which includes its main medical campus in Hyde Park, an ambulatory facility in Orland Park, Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, and affiliate Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.