UCSF’s long tradition of excellence in cancer research includes, notably, the Nobel Prize-winning work of J. Michael Bishop, MD, and Harold Varmus, MD, who discovered cancer-causing oncogenes. Their work opened new doors for exploring genetic mistakes that cause cancer, and formed the basis for some of the most important cancer research happening today.

Frank McCormick, PhD

Frank McCormick, PhD, directors the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Center at UCSF.

In 2009, UCSF molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, won the Nobel Prize with two colleagues for their basic research on how telomeres, the end caps of chromosomes within cells, act to keep DNA intact – work that has led to an understanding of the important role in cancer growth played by these telomeres and the associated enzyme called telomerase.

The home of UCSF’s leadership in basic science and clinical research, as well as patient care, is the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, which joins together top scientists with exceptional medical practitioners.

This culture of interdisciplinary teamwork – a tradition at UCSF – enables the Cancer Center not only to make key scientific discoveries, but also to ensure that the knowledge gained leads to better treatment matched to the individual cancer patient.

Nationwide Leader in Cancer Care

Any cancer center can call itself comprehensive, but the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has earned that designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). “Comprehensive” signifies demonstrated national leadership in laboratory, clinical and population-based research activities with substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas.

Postdoctoral fellow Kan Lu, PhD, and senior research associate Jeff Chang in the Gabriele Bergers Lab.

In addition, this designation indicates demonstrated activities in community service, outreach, information dissemination, and education and training of biomedical researchers and health care professionals. It is the highest ranking awarded through a rigorous evaluation by an NCI-appointed peer committee with final approval by the NCI National Cancer Advisory Board. There are more than 40 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers nationwide, but the  UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center  is the only one in Northern California.

The excellence of the Cancer Center is widely recognized. It consistently ranks among the top 10 medical centers in the nation for cancer care, according to annual best hospitals surveys from US News & World Report. In addition, the Cancer Center has attained the highest level of research funding from the NCI among cancer centers in California, and consistently is named among the top 10 NCI-designated cancer centers, along with other top rankings.

Translating Cancer Discoveries into Better Care for Patients

Research has found that even tumors of the same type in different patients may rely on different, abnormal genes to grow and survive. Some of these abnormal genes are proving to be suitable drug targets.

Cancer Center members at UCSF are collaborating and consulting with pharmaceutical industry partners to identify the most promising new drug candidates. These are being clinically evaluated in patients stricken by tumors with specific genetic profiles. These new partnerships are expected to result in faster progress and greater success in making better drug treatments available for clinical practice.

“We see ourselves as pioneers in transformative, interdisciplinary cancer research and its translation into improved prevention, detection and treatment,” says Frank McCormick, PhD, director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.