UPCI Milestones

Over the last 25 years, the city of Pittsburgh has witnessed an incredible amount of change. From losing its status as the steel capital of the world to its resurgence as a leader in health care and education, the Steel City and its residents have shared in difficult challenges, like periods of high unemployment, as well as moments of excitement and pride, like two Super Bowl wins, three Stanley Cup championships, and the G20 meeting. During this time, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) has grown into a vibrant center for cancer research and care.

As one of the nation’s top centers for care and research, UPCI has played a major role in developing new strategies for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Here is a glimpse at some of our milestones from the past 25 years.


Photo of Dr PCI Building
  • Richard King Mellon Foundation awards a major grant for startup funds for Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, now called the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.


Photo of Ronald Herberman, MD
Dr. Ronald Herberman
  • Ronald B. Herberman, MD, is recruited to serve as founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.


  • First researchers are recruited, laboratories are formed, and experimental research begins at UPCI.


  • UPCI Council is created, drawing its members from Pittsburgh's top business and civic leaders.
  • UPCI researchers develop new technology for production of "activated natural killer cells," and are the first to use these cells in treating patients with advanced melanoma and kidney cancer.


  • UPCI Becomes NCI–designated as Clinical Cancer Research Center


PCI Report with Dr Herberman
  • National Cancer Institute designates UPCI as a Comprehensive Cancer Center.


Photo of Garden
  • UPCI is one of the first two centers in the United States to receive authorization to conduct gene therapy clinical trials for cancer.
  • UPCI moves from offices in UPMC's Falk Clinic to a suite in Montefiore Hospital, representing the first consolidation and expansion of space for UPCI physicians and researchers.


  • UPCI researchers are the first in the country to create and test a novel, synthetic vaccine (MUC–1) against pancreatic, breast, and other cancers.


Photo of Dr Kirkwood
Dr. John Kirkwood
  • UPCI investigators create a computer program that accelerates gene mapping.
  • FDA approves interferon alfa 2b therapy, pioneered at UPCI. It is the first and remains the only treatment for surgically treated melanoma at high risk of recurrence.


  • UPCI researchers discover a gene for inherited pancreatitis, which is associated with high risk for pancreatic cancer.


  • UPCI researchers discover a biological switch that drives lung cancer growth.


Photo of PET/CT
  • First combined PET/CT is pioneered and tested for diagnosing and assessing treatment of cancer patients.


Photo of Dr Shogan, Dr Marks, Dr Levine, Dr. Herberman
Drs. Shogan, Marks, Levine and Herberman
  • Hillman Cancer Center breaks ground, thanks to transformational gifts from the Henry L. Hillman and Hillman Foundations.


Photo of Patient Waiting Area
  • UPMC Cancer Centers clinical oncology care and research network is formally established across the tri–state area of Western PA, Ohio, and WV. Patient volume doubles to more than 25,000 new patients per year, representing the largest cancer network in the United States.
  • National Cancer Institute awards a Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant to the UPCI for lung cancer research, thereby recognizing it as one of the top lung cancer programs in the United States.
  • Mario Lemieux Foundation provides a major gift to UPMC to establish the Mario Lemieux Centers for Patient Care and Research.


Hillman Cancer Center
  • Hillman Cancer Center opens.
  • The Giant Eagle Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Genetics is established at UPCI.


  • David C. Koch Regional Cancer Therapy Center is established at UPCI.


Photo of Dr Grandis
Dr. Jennifer Grandis
  • National Cancer Institute awards a Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant to UPCI for head and neck cancer research, thereby recognizing it as one of the top head and neck cancer programs in the U.S.
  • The Sampson Family Endowed Chair in Thoracic Surgical Oncology is established at UPCI.
  • The Wheeler Family makes a $1 million challenge grant and $4 million is raised for the 2004 Hillman Cancer Center Gala.


Photo of Wall
  • Hillman Foundation, joined with the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, established the Hillman Fellows Program for Innovative Cancer Research at UPCI through a major gift that provides seed money for scientists to carry their investigations into new, uncharted territory. This gift also launches a new capital campaign to benefit UPCI and UPMC Cancer Centers.
  • The Arnold Palmer Endowed Chair in Cancer Prevention is established at UPCI.
  • UPCI researchers use new technologies to discover patterns of gene and protein activity associated with cancer risk.
  • The Sandra and Thomas Usher Endowed Chair in Melanoma is established at UPCI.


  • The second major breast cancer prevention trial conducted at UPCI and around the world shows that the drug Evista prevents breast cancer as well as the drug Tamoxifen, which was approved in 1998.


  • The Gregory T. H. Davies Endowed Chair in Brain Tumor Research and Physician Education is established at UPCI.


  • The seventh virus known to cause cancer is discovered by the world renowned UPCI researchers who also discovered the sixth cancer–causing virus.
  • National Cancer Institute awards a Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant to the UPCI for melanoma and skin cancer research, thereby recognizing it as one of the top melanoma and skin cancer programs in the U.S.
  • The Frieda G. and Saul F. Shapira BRCA Cancer Research Program is established.


Dr. Nancy Davidson
Dr. Nancy Davidson
  • Nancy E. Davidson, MD, is recruited to serve as the new director of the UPCI and UPMC Cancer Centers.
  • UPCI takes a lead in developing new targeted therapies for cancer, including treatments that target genetic mutations linked to breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers (PARP inhibitors).
  • The 10,000th brain tumor patient is treated via Gamma Knife® surgery at UPMC.


Photo of Arial View of Hillman Cancer Center with NCI logo
  • UPCI is again awarded the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation by the National Cancer Institute.