UCSF renames Cancer Center as tribute to Bay Area philanthropist Helen Diller

Philanthropist Helen Diller

The UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center today is being renamed as a tribute to San Francisco native Helen Diller and her family. All UCSF cancer programs and resources will now carry the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center name.

The new name honors Diller for her commitment to improving lives around the world and for serving as a role model who inspires others to make a difference in their communities.

A sign bearing the new name was revealed at a mid-day ceremony at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, 1600 Divisadero Street, where the majority of cancer services are provided.

“Helen Diller believes that inspiring education and scientific discovery can help transform the world, and this is evident in her philosophy and practice. In recognition of her life and accomplishments we are pleased to rename the cancer center in her honor,” said UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, MD. “The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center works at the leading edge in all areas of cancer research and patient care, and the new name will be synonymous with this new era of cancer discovery.”

The Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center will help UCSF build on an established track record of cancer innovation. In the coming years, the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center will work to accelerate the pace at which research findings are translated into life-saving tools to diagnose, treat and prevent cancer. UCSF’s unique collaboration across disciplines will help propel the cancer center into the next frontier of cancer discovery, diagnosis and treatment.

“This is a tremendous honor for me and my family, and I am proud to have my name associated with one of the leading health care institutions in the country,” said Diller. “I know that the thousands of patients who come here will benefit from the expertise and care that is a trademark of UCSF, and discoveries made here also will benefit scientists, clinicians and patients around the world. It is thrilling to think about the potential global impact on quality of life.”

A resident of San Mateo County, Diller has a history of philanthropic giving to education, science and the arts. She is recognized for her creativity in looking for opportunities to contribute and for her deep involvement in the areas she supports. She created the Helen Diller Family Foundation nearly 10 years ago, and its gifts have supported a number of programs and institutions in the Bay Area and throughout the world.

The foundation has made major grants and gifts to UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz to fund programs in Jewish studies, and to UCSF for the construction of the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building on the UCSF Mission Bay campus. A grant to the San Francisco Jewish Community Center created the Helen Diller Family Pre-School. The foundation also supported the renovation of the Julius Kahn Playground, located in the Presidio of San Francisco.

The foundation created and supports the Diller Teen Fellows Program, a national initiative to promote Jewish teen leadership through community service, ethics and identity-building, and the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, an annual award that recognizes up to five California teens for their exceptional community service and outstanding leadership, and the Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, an annual award to top educators in their field.

In addition, the Helen Diller Family Foundation has donated to the new de Young Museum and has helped make possible the current San Francisco presentation of “The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend.” Of particular note, the foundation played a key role in bringing the Marc Chagall exhibition to SFMOMA, which was the only venue outside of Paris for this major retrospective in 2003.
Diller is the recipient of the National Scopus Award, the highest honor the American Friends of the Hebrew University can confer, and the Visionary Philanthropic Leader Award from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. She has been active in a number of charitable organizations, serving as current chair of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and former regional president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University.

Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, director of the newly renamed Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, noted that UCSF is honored to merge its name with Helen Diller’s, adding that “the new name will provide a new and powerful symbol of our shared principles that will distinguish UCSF from other cancer centers across the country.”

UCSF was designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute in 1999 in recognition of the highest level of excellence in both its scientific research and its ability to integrate diverse research approaches to focus on the problem of cancer and improve patient outcomes. The center ranks first in California and sixth nationwide in National Cancer Institute research grants and is home to pioneers in research into genetic, cellular and immune system causes and responses to cancer.

Among its many subspecialties, the center includes flagship programs in breast, brain and prostate cancer. UCSF has the largest brain tumor program in the nation, which offers state-of-the-art research and treatment for both children and adults. To achieve and maintain the comprehensive designation, the cancer center must undertake novel laboratory-based and clinical research while maintaining programs that focus on cancer prevention, control, and population sciences.

The Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center builds on a tradition of scientific leadership in cancer at UCSF that began when the Cancer Research Institute was established in 1948. Since then, the research enterprise has flourished. In the 1970s, UCSF researcher J. Michael Bishop, now Chancellor, and colleague Harold Varmus discovered that cancer is caused by normal genes gone awry. This revelation, which led to Bishop and Varmus receiving the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, transformed the field of cancer research and provided the underpinnings for new approaches to the detection and treatment of cancer.