National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
April 7, 2009 • Volume 6 / Number 7

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Cancer Center Profile

The Wistar Institute Cancer Center

Director: Dr. Russel E. Kaufman • 3601 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA  19104
Phone: 215-898-3700 • Web site:


Since 1972, The Wistar Institute has been a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center focused on basic biomedical research, more specifically on understanding the causes, treatment, and prevention of cancer. The Wistar Institute Cancer Center holds the distinction of being one of seven NCI-designated cancer centers focused on basic science, and has a history of significant advances in cancer genetics, cancer biology, and tumor immunology and virology. These accomplishments include:

The Wistar Institute Cancer Center The Wistar Institute Cancer Center
  • Identification of genes associated with breast, lung, and prostate cancer
  • Development of monoclonal antibodies used to study the pathways and proteins involved in tumor development
  • Contributions to improved cancer treatments and diagnostic tests

Wistar Cancer Center scientists pursue research in gene expression and regulation, molecular and cellular oncogenesis, and immunology. Scientists benefit from numerous shared core facilities that provide essential technical support and instrumentation in areas such as small molecule screening and bioinformatics. One of the great strengths of the Center is its emphasis on collaboration, both internally across research programs and externally across the nation and around the world.


Scientific collaboration is a core value at The Wistar Cancer Center, and team science is the common approach. The Cancer Center promotes interdisciplinary coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among its members through a variety of seminars, meetings, and other venues. Wistar's size and physical organization encourage formal and informal interactions among faculty, staff, and research trainees and students.

The Cancer Center's success in interdisciplinary collaboration is evidenced in the academic literature by its prolific record of publications listing co-authors from other research programs and teams. Wistar researchers also hold a number of joint federal grants for research in areas including melanoma, aging, and esophageal cancer.

Locally, the Institute and the Cancer Center benefit from Philadelphia's rich intellectual environment and the many opportunities for collaboration with neighboring academic institutions. Located in West Philadelphia, Wistar enjoys particularly extensive collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Notable Research Programs

A recent discovery by a Wistar researcher may lead to the development of a new class of highly targeted cancer drugs. The scientist decoded a key structure of the enzyme telomerase, which plays a significant role in cancer. The enzyme is active in up to 90 percent of human tumors, making it a top target for the creation of new cancer treatments.

Wistar's melanoma research program is a leading example of the success of the Center's partnership efforts. Conducted in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, the program has brought biologists, immunologists, and geneticists together with clinical experts in pathology, oncology, and surgery. In 2001, the program was recognized as a skin cancer SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) by NCI. With the support of this prestigious grant, Wistar investigators have pioneered novel approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.

Lung cancer
By the time most lung cancers are diagnosed, the disease usually has advanced to the point that treatment options are limited. Wistar scientists are developing a blood biomarker test that would detect the disease early, potentially saving lives. In the lab, their prototype test has shown promise for diagnosing early stage lung cancer.

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