Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center serving Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. The cancer center aims to deliver a cancer-free frontier through impactful discovery and innovation in cancer research, cancer clinical care, and access to and delivery of that care. Groundbreaking achievements include advances in precision oncology, data science and artificial intelligence (AI), transdisciplinary research in melanoma prevention and care, lung cancer and tobacco control using state-of-the-art methodologies, and cancer prevention and care in underserved rural and frontier populations through transformative new care models that help overcome distance as a disparity.
Huntsman Cancer Institute’s mission is to understand cancer from its beginnings, to use that knowledge in the creation and improvement of cancer treatments, to relieve the suffering of cancer patients, and to provide education about cancer risk, prevention, and care. A key to that quest is to improve access.
This mission is realized by serving patients on six continents. The flagship campus location alone encompasses more than one million square feet of cancer research and care space. The interdisciplinary approach to treating cancer connects teams of experts to find the most effective treatment for each patient. The institute typically has more than 650 research projects underway, led by more than 260 research teams. The cancer center also offers over 300 open clinical trials, including more than 40 first in human clinical trials. Huntsman Cancer Institute offers the largest phase 1 clinical trials program in the Mountain West.
Huntsman Cancer Institute opened its first research building and outpatient clinics in 1999 after a generous donation from the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman family. The institute later dedicated the Cancer Hospital in 2004 with a major expansion in 2011, which remains the first and only cancer specialty hospital in the region. The Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center opened in 2017, followed by the Senator Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center in 2021. The newest major hospital expansion, the Kathryn F. Kirk Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care and Women’s Cancers, saw the cancer center grow to over one million square feet of state-of-the-art cancer care and research space in 2023.
Leveraging emerging technologies and innovative care delivery models as well as the vast experience from serving patients across the single largest land area of any cancer center in the nation, Huntsman Cancer Institute is a proven authority in extending access to and delivery of cancer care. The institute continues to lead the way in creating access for all with plans for a second cancer research and treatment center in Utah County.
Research at Huntsman Cancer Institute
Huntsman Cancer Institute’s commitment to cancer research is deep and enduring. The center’s work spans basic research; translational studies; clinical research, including early-phase clinical trials; and prevention, cancer control, and population-based research.
Huntsman Cancer Institute’s cancer research laboratories and groups are organized into four research programs that provide an intellectual environment for collaborative exchange. These include Nuclear Control of Cell Growth and Differentiation, Cell Response and Regulation, Experimental Therapeutics, and Cancer Control and Population Sciences. Additionally, ten disease centers serve as translational hubs, coordinating clinicians and scientists in teams focused on specific cancer types.
Huntsman Cancer Institute is guided by six strategic pillars: 1) Cancer prevention; 2) Personalized coordinated care; 3) Value-based care; 4) Scientific and clinical innovation; 5) Equity, diversity, and inclusion; and 6) Access. In the space of scientific research and clinical innovation, we address these strategic pillars through six overarching themes: 1) Serving as the Cancer Center of the Mountain West, 2) Discovering innovative mechanisms for understanding and conquering cancer, 3) Advancing the next generation of precision medicine, 4) Harnessing the power of data science and AI in cancer discovery and cancer care, 5) Empowering and educating future leaders in cancer research and medicine, and 6) Joining forces in creative, diverse, and powerful transdisciplinary teams.
The center has a strong history of research on cancer’s genetic basis and the identification of cancer-causing genes. The institute is home to the Utah Population Database (UPDB), an exceptionally powerful research resource that links data from medical records, genealogy records, and demographic data for eleven million individuals. UPDB is the largest database of its kind in the United States. This information helps researchers identify genetic patterns of cancer in families. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center in the world.
Huntsman Cancer Institute’s central emphasis is to translate the institute’s scientific discoveries to both the clinic and the population. This goal, which requires superb transdisciplinary integration, is achieved through a strong collaborative culture at the institute. Annually, the center accrues more than 550 interventional treatment patients. Some clinical trials are available to patients in the institute’s satellite clinics and in neighboring states through six affiliate hospitals in five neighboring states. Three community clinics extend the reach of some of these trials.
Cancer education and outreach are core components of Huntsman Cancer Institute's mission and are designed to increase access to cancer education, screening, and care for underserved populations. The center’s patient and public education services are recognized nationally and have reached more than one million people across the globe. Formal cancer education programs serve middle and high school students through junior faculty members. Aligned with its commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, multiple programs specifically serve students from underrepresented groups. Specifically, Huntsman Cancer Institute is home to the PathMaker Programs for Cancer Research, which provide laboratory-based opportunities for underrepresented students and their teachers, often from rural areas, in biomedical research. We educate and empower the next generation of cancer scientists through a multitude of programs that support individuals from all backgrounds.
Huntsman Cancer Institute advances its research, care, and education goals through extensive Utah and Mountain West partnerships, including supporting Federally Qualified Health Centers and the Intermountain West HPV Vaccination Coalition, a research and advocacy group with over 500 members in 25 states.
Select Scientific Initiatives at Huntsman Cancer Institute
Some of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s key strategic initiatives to address the cancer burden include:
- Rural/Frontier Cancer Needs: Distance is a health care disparity. A person diagnosed with cancer who lives in a rural or frontier county is 10% more likely to die from the disease. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s strategic commitment to improve outcomes for rural, frontier, and underserved populations in the Mountain West has led to implementation of research for evidence-based smoking cessation strategies, partnering with local organizations across the region and innovative studies of short-course treatments in clinical trials. The center also offers patient navigation services, and Huntsman at Home, a unique cancer hospital at home model.
- Breast Cancer Screening and Treatment: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the Mountain West, and the third highest in mortality. Huntsman Cancer Institute researchers are tackling this in a variety of ways. Population scientists are working to advance health equity in breast cancer screening by increasing follow-up among underserved women who have an abnormal test. Basic scientists have teamed up with clinicians to advance precision oncology, using patient-derived models of breast cancer to predict tumor recurrence and therapy response. Precision oncology clinical trials will evaluate methods of functional drug screening to choose the right drugs for patients earlier in their therapy course.
- Melanoma/Sun Safety: The Mountain West has the highest incidence of melanoma in the United States, and melanoma is the third most common cancer in the region. Huntsman Cancer Institute has invested in programs to promote sun safety in the area, including outreach to ski areas and national parks, successfully advocating for sun safety legislation, and fostering a community of melanoma researchers spanning basic, translational, clinical, and population sciences research through active investment.
*This profile was provided by the Huntsman Cancer Institute