For more than 50 years, the University of Chicago has been a leader in cancer research. Our scientists and clinicians have consistently expanded the boundaries of knowledge and transformed cancer care and prevention.
Seminal discoveries made at UChicago have stimulated the development and introduction of many of the cancer treatments used today. As the examples below demonstrate, many of the roots of chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, gene therapy and bone marrow transplantation can be traced to UChicago.
1943 - Laid the foundation for use of chemotherapy to treat cancer
Leon O. Jacobson, MD, studied the effects of nitrogen mustard as an anticancer agent in leukemia patients, laying the foundation for widespread use of chemotherapy to treat cancer.
1972 - Identification of the first chromosomal translocation in leukemia
Janet Rowley, MD, identified the first chromosomal translocation in leukemia, the t(9;22) or Philadelphia chromosome, leading to the recognition of the genetic basis of cancer and, ultimately, targeted therapy. She won numerous awards for her transformative contributions, including the 1998 Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
1973 - Led international efforts to stage subtypes of lymphoma
John Ultmann, MD, our founding Cancer Center director and leading National Cancer Act proponent, led international efforts to stage subtypes of lymphoma, which led to the development of more effective, less toxic therapies.
1990 - Mapped the first chromosome translocation using FISH
Michelle Le Beau, PhD, with Janet Rowley, MD, mapped the first chromosome translocation using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) which became a standard diagnostic tool for blood cancers.
2001 - Classification of leukemias and lymphomas
James Vardiman, MD, co-led the development of the World Health Organization classification of leukemias and lymphomas, which became the international diagnostic system.
2004 - Pharmacogenomics
Mark Ratain, MD, discovered genetic variants that predict which cancer patients are likely to experience severe side effects from the drug irinotecan and helped launch the field of pharmacogenomics.
2008 - Computer-aided diagnosis imaging tools to detect breast cancer
Maryellen Giger, PhD, demonstrated that computer-aided diagnosis imaging tools are accurate for detecting breast cancer, starting a field now known as radiomics. In 2019, QuantXTM – developed by Dr. Giger – became the first FDA-cleared, artificial-intelligence-driven technology to assist radiologists in the diagnosis of breast cancer.
2009 - Discovery that most breast cancers in women of African ancestry are a specific subtype
Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, discovered that most breast cancers in women of African ancestry are the aggressive triple-negative subtype and began to identify genetic variants contributing to this disparity.
2015 - Disruption of cancer pathway to enhance new immunotherapies
Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, demonstrated the role of beta-catenin signaling in tumor immune exclusion and PD1 checkpoint inhibitor therapy resistance, showing that the T cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment is a biomarker of response to immunotherapy.
1930s - 1940s
Charles B. Huggins, MD, demonstrated that prostate cancers are dependent on hormones, work that earned him the Nobel Prize in 1966 and transformed prostate and breast cancer research and treatment.
2000 - 2004
2005 - 2009
2010 - 2014
2015 - 2019
Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, demonstrated the role of β-catenin signaling in tumor immune exclusion and PD1 checkpoint inhibitor therapy resistance, showing that the T cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment is a biomarker of response to immunotherapy.