Over the last twenty-five years, the city of Pittsburgh has witnessed an incredible amount of change. From losing its status as the steel capitol of the world to its resurgence as a leader in healthcare 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. This month we kick off a year of celebration in recognition of UPCI's 25th anniversary.
Over the last twenty-five years, UPCI has changed almost as much as the city of Pittsburgh. What began as a cancer research center funded with a few million dollars and the vision of a number of regional leaders quickly became one of the fastest-growing cancer institutes in the country. In fact, under the leadership of founding director Ronald Herberman, M.D., who arrived in Pittsburgh in 1985, the UPCI received its designation as a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in record time — just five years. The NCI designation, which we have enjoyed for twenty years, confirms that UPCI is one of the elite cancer centers across the country in basic, translational and clinical research as well as a leader in providing cancer prevention, compassionate patient care and support, and community-based outreach services.
Cancer as a disease has changed dramatically over this period of time, as well. It wasn't so long ago that people were scared to even say the word cancer aloud because it was considered an immediate and devastating death sentence. Now physician scientists here and across the country are turning cancer into a manageable, chronic disease that requires treatment but doesn't invoke the same fear it once did. We have seen treatments change and improve — now some patients undergoing chemotherapy can take their treatment in pill form, in the comfort of their own homes, instead of coming in for intravenous treatment. Radiation treatment is faster and more accurate than ever before, able to target tumors and spare healthy tissue. In addition to these advances, we've witnessed the initial promise of personalized cancer care enabled by our ability to identify certain subsets of cancer in patients and know better whether or not they will benefit from a particular targeted therapy.
It's not only cancer detection and treatment that has made its mark, however. We've witnessed amazing grass roots movements spring forth, inspired by and dedicated to cancer patients, cancer survivors and those that have lost their lives to the disease. Thanks to organizations like Susan G. Komen for a Cure, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, LUNGevity, Colon Cancer Alliance, and so many more, we have changed the way we think and talk about cancer. These organizations work not only to raise awareness for particular types of cancer, but they raise funds to further cancer research, and, when appropriate, they lobby in Washington D.C. on behalf of cancer as a cause. Their contributions to the fight against cancer should not be underestimated.
It is remarkable to think how far we have come as a cancer center and as a cancer community. But it is far more important to consider where we are going. As a cancer institute, we are looking to the future with great anticipation — a future perhaps even free of cancer. Here at UPCI we are using this landmark year of our 25th anniversary to rededicate ourselves to our mission — to improving our understanding of how cancer develops, to define lifesaving approaches for cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment; and to educating future generations of scientists and clinicians. We've made great strides, but there is still much work to be done. At UPCI, we are ready to tackle that work with a renewed energy and sense of determination. We remain at our core patient-centered and research driven in all that we do.