Historical Timeline of Karmanos Cancer Institute

Though the Institute was formally established in 1943 as the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research, our campaign against this disease dates back to late 1863 when Harper Hospital, the Institute’s inpatient facility, was built.


  • Harper Hospital (now Harper University Hospital) is founded. One of its first tasks is treating wounded Civil War soldiers.


  • Detroit Medical College — now Wayne State University’s School of Medicine and the Institute’s academic affiliate — is started by five doctors who borrow a building from Harper University Hospital.


  • Harper University Hospital obtains its first x-ray equipment, then called “Skyography.” Under the direction of Dr. H.R. Varney, the hospital soon begins to use x-rays to destroy cancer cells.


  • An animal laboratory is established for research on cancer, pellagra, tuberculosis and bone tumors.


  • A local branch of the national Women’s Field Army is formed to provide voluntary assistance to area cancer patients and their families. The beginning of organized cancer control efforts in this community can be attributed to these dedicated women.


  • Under the National Cancer Institute Act of 1937, Wayne State University, in cooperation with Detroit Receiving, Women’s and Grace hospitals, is approved by officials of the U.S. Public Health Service for establishment of a Detroit cancer training center in the pathology, the use of x-ray and radium, and cancer surgery.


  • The Detroit Institute for Cancer Research is founded. Dr. Rollin H. Stevens, a noted Detroit-area radiologist at Grace Hospital, is appointed the institute’s first president.
  • Dr. Rollin H. Stevens oversees 12 independent research scientists including Dr. Maynie Curtis and her colleague Dr. Wilhelmina Dunning (who developed the methodology for genetically restricted animal breeding essential in investigative cancer studies), and Dr. Mary Guthrie who identified a method for inducing ovarian tumors in mice through the spleen.


  • Soon after the creation of the American Cancer Society, a Detroit group is granted a charter and becomes the Society’s Southeastern Michigan Division. It undertakes full support of the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research and raises $250,000 locally to purchase a repair shop for heavy-duty trucks on the corner of Warren and John R (present-day site of the Institute’s Prentis Center).
  • An independently operated tumor registry and a cancer detection center are also housed in this facility.


  • Dr. William Simpson is recruited as scientific director of the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research and becomes head of its research programs.
  • The American Cancer Society implements a policy prohibiting local chapters from owning property and operating medical clinics and scientific laboratories. To comply, the Society’s Southeastern Michigan Division forms the Michigan Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, and deeds all property titles to the newly formed organization.


  • The Detroit Institute for Cancer Research and Wayne State University School of Medicine join forces, beginning a concentration in cancer research that continues to this day.
  • Woman’s Hospital (now Hutzel Hospital) dedicates the Detroit Cancer Center, located at John R and Hancock.


  • The American Cancer Society and Michigan Cancer Foundation begin sponsoring a variety of cancer research and outreach activities including the Yates Memorial Cancer Detection Clinic and the Michigan Cancer Registry.


  • Plans are announced for the formation of The Detroit Medical Center, a group of coordinating hospitals serving Wayne State University’s School of Medicine as teaching institutions.


  • Wayne State University’s School of Medicine researchers studying air pollution become the first to artificially produce lung cancer.
  • That same year it announces plans for a new campus in what will become The Detroit Medical Center.


  • Vainutis Vaitkevicius, M.D. (Dr. Vee) is appointed clinical director of the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research and establishes the Milton A. Darling Memorial Clinical Cancer Research Center, a clinical facility which accommodates up to 18 inpatients, a small outpatient clinic, and a small laboratory for clinical studies.


  • Azidothymidine (AZT) is synthesized in Michigan Cancer Foundation’s chemistry lab by Jerome Horwitz, Ph.D. Designed as an anticancer drug.
  • AZT will later become the first drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of AIDS.


  • The Detroit Institute for Cancer Research, Yates Cancer Detection Clinic and Michigan Cancer Registry merge with the Michigan Cancer Foundation to form one corporation with coordinated program objectives. Dr. Brennan is named president and medical director. Dr. William Simpson is appointed executive vice president.
  • Wayne State University’s School of Medicine establishes a new Division of Conjoint Services and Curricula in Oncology, responsible for coordinating clinical cancer teaching activities. Dr. Vaitkevicius is named director.


  • Institute chemist Dr. Jerome Horwitz creates dideoxycytidine (ddC). In 25 years it will become a second cancer drug approved for AIDS patients.


  • With the cooperation of 70 area hospitals and 8,000 physicians, Michigan Cancer Foundation’s cancer registry begins recording every incidence of cancer in southeastern Michigan. Today, with vital statistics on more than 400,000 cancer patients, it is one of the nation’s largest population-based cancer registries.


  • The National Cancer Act is passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon. It is the nation’s first large-scale offensive initiative against cancer and calls for the creation of regional comprehensive cancer centers.


  • Wayne State University is awarded a planning grant to study the feasibility of establishing a comprehensive cancer center in Detroit.
  • Wayne State University’s School of Medicine grants departmental status to medical oncology, under the chairmanship of Dr. Vaitkevicius.
  • Dr. John Wolfe of Hutzel Hospital (formerly Women’s Hospital) leads the world’s first training program in the art of xeroradiography.


  • Michigan Cancer Foundation opens its new headquarters on John R and Warren —125,000 square feet to house its basic laboratory research, epidemiological research, breast cancer screening and administrative programs.
  • Herbert Soule, Ph.D., develops the MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line — the first time such cells are kept growing outside the body. The line soon becomes the standard for human breast cancer research around the world.
  • Michigan Cancer Foundation’s cancer registry is invited to join the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, one of only 11 national sites that monitor samples of the country’s population for cancer incidence.


  • Dr. Vainutis Vaitkevicius and his colleagues, Dr. Norman Nigro and Dr. Basil Considine, publish the article, “Combined therapy for cancer of the anal canal.” It leads to a paradigm shift in the way cancer patients are treated including organ preservation, the use of multidisciplinary teams, and neoadjuvant (given before surgery) chemotherapy.
  • A Joint Committee for Cancer Studies and Research is formed by the Michigan Cancer Foundation and Wayne State University to plan collaborative projects in cancer research and patient care.
  • More than 70 volunteers take histories, teach breast self-examination techniques and help patients prepare for exams as Michigan Cancer Foundation’s Breast Cancer Detection Center opens.


  • Wayne State University’s Division of Conjoint Services and Curricula in Oncology becomes the Detroit Medical Center Institute for Oncology and Allied Diseases, a nonprofit corporation established to complement the role of faculty members in their university-related endeavors.


  • Michigan Cancer Foundation receives a grant from the National Cancer Institute to establish the Metropolitan Detroit Cancer Control Program. The program, supported by more than 60 agencies and organizations, targets the tri-county area for health education and prevention, cancer screening and detection, diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation and continuing patient care services.
  • Michigan Cancer Foundation and Wayne State University sign a Cancer Center Affiliation Agreement, creating the Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit.


  • The Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit is awarded comprehensive status by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Wayne State University’s School of Medicine researcher Dr. Norman Nigro documents the link between dietary fiber and fat in the prevention of colon cancer.


  • Michigan Cancer Foundation’s Home Care Program becomes Medicare certified — the first cancer-specific home care programs in the nation.


  • The $2 million Gershenson Radiation Oncology Center opens — a cooperative venture of Wayne State University’s School of Medicine and Harper University Hospital.


  • Wayne State University’s Division of Oncology is merged with the Department of Internal Medicine. Dr. Vaitkevicius is named chairman and Dr. Laurence Baker is appointed director of the Division of Medical Oncology.


  • The Comprehensive Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit is named in honor of Meyer L. Prentis, a Detroit philanthropist who was treasurer of General Motors for 32 years. He and his wife, Anna, dedicated their lives to charitable endeavors, helping to establish the United Foundation, now the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
  • The Detroit Medical Center is officially formed. The founding institutions, acknowledging a need for strength and unity to better fulfill their individual missions, join together to respond to the challenges posed by an ever-changing health care environment.


  • The Vaitkevicius Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center is built adjacent to Harper University Hospital. The facility uses state-of the-art equipment to detect tumors.


  • Dr. Laurence Baker is named director of the Meyer L. Prentis Comprehensive Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit.
  • Michigan Cancer Foundation’s Minority Student Apprenticeship Program, one of almost 300 nationwide, is recognized as a “model program” by the National Institutes of Health.


  • Dr. Soule develops MCF-10, an immortal line of normal human breast cells. The cell line is the first of its kind to be cultured without the use of transforming agents, and is used to study the earliest changes a normal cell undergoes in becoming cancerous.


  • Dr. Brennan retires. Dr. Vaitkevicius is named president of the Michigan Cancer Foundation.
  • The world’s first superconducting cyclotron built to treat cancer is installed in the Gershenson Radiation Oncology Center.
  • The Detroit Medical Center is admitted as a member to the Meyer L. Prentis Comprehensive Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit.


  • Michigan Cancer Foundation, the Meyer L. Prentis Comprehensive Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit, and the cancer programs of Wayne State University and The Detroit Medical Center merge under a single administrative structure, creating one of the country’s largest centers of its kind.
  • With a $3 million gift from the estate of Victor & Lucille Wertz, the Wertz Clinical Cancer Center opens, providing outpatient chemotherapy, and housing multidisciplinary clinics and patient education programs.


  • Peter Karmanos, Jr., donates $15 million to the Center, which is named for his wife, Barbara Ann, to become the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.
  • William P. Peters, M.D., Ph.D., is recruited to head the Center.
  • The Vainutis K. Vaitkevicius Community Services Center is dedicated in Southfield, Michigan.
  • Abacavir, also known as lamivudine and dideoxythiacytidine (3TC), was approved by the FDA. Abacavir is a medication for the treatment of HIV that was developed at Karmanos. Abacavir slows the progression of disease by inhibiting viral replication.


  • The National Breast Cancer Prevention Trial releases news that the drug, Tamoxifen, can reduce the incidence of breast cancer in healthy women at high-risk for the disease by 50%. The drug was created with the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line established by the Institute in 1973.


  • The Hudson-Webber Cancer Research Center opens. With 80,000 square feet, the facility serves as the “translational” research facility, bridging the gaps between ideas in the lab and applications in the clinic. It also houses work on emerging technologies for novel methods of cancer detection and treatment.
  • Dr. Wei Zen Wei developed HER-2 DNA breast cancer vaccine


  • The Institute completes its $100 million capital and endowment campaign.
  • Institute physicians present the plenary (lead) presentations at the two largest cancer meetings in the world. Dr. Omer Kucuk presents his findings on lycopene and its ability to reduce the size of prostate tumors at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. Dr. William Peters presents his study on high dose therapy and stem cell transplant for the treatment of breast cancer at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists.
  • The expanded $5 million Alexander J. Walt Comprehensive Breast Center opens, offering advanced screening and diagnostics, as well as technologies developed at the Institute.
  • The Institute becomes affiliated with Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey to collaborate on cancer care and research.


  • The Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center opens in Farmington Hills as an outpatient facility, offering chemotherapy, radiation oncology and other sophisticated cancer treatments, in an atmosphere designed to provide comfort and healing.
  • The Institute and the J.P. McCarthy Cord Stem Cell Bank partner together to create a minority-focused cord blood bank. The cord blood bank is the only one in southeastern Michigan, and one of eight national, free of charge, public cord blood banks.


  • John C. Ruckdeschel, M.D., a lung cancer specialist who built the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida to one of the nation’s largest cancer research and treatment centers, is named president, director and chief executive officer of the Institute.


  • The Institute becomes affiliated with Crittenton Hospital in Rochester to collaborate on cancer care and research.


  • In response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) identification of major sources of public asbestos exposure in Michigan, the Institute and the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine affiliated with Wayne State University join forces to establish the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers. The joint program addresses an immediate public health need for early diagnosis and aggressive treatment of asbestos-related diseases in Michigan.
  • The Institute becomes affiliated with Mt. Clemens Regional Medical Center in Mt. Clemens, MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland, and the Toledo Clinic Hematology Oncology in Toledo to collaborate on cancer care and research.
  • A clinical prototype of the ultrasound tomography (UST) device is installed at the Institute. UST uses ultrasound waves for soft tissue imaging, specifically for breast cancer diagnosis. The device was first conceptualized at Karmanos in 1998 and 510k FDA approval was granted in 2013.


  • On December 1, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute becomes Michigan's first and only independent hospital exclusively focused on caring for cancer patients.
  • The Institute becomes affiliated with Huron Medical Group in Port Huron to collaborate on cancer care and research.


  • The Institute becomes affiliated with Marquette General Health System in Marquette, Metropolitan Florence Nightingale Hospital and Cancer Center in Turkey, and Newland Medical Associates in Southfield and Novi to collaborate on cancer care and research.


  • The Institute becomes affiliated with ProMedica Health System in Toledo to collaborate on cancer care and research.


  • The Institute becomes affiliated with DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Commerce and Wattansoth Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, to collaborate on cancer care and research.


  • For the third consecutive year, Karmanos Cancer Center is selected as the most preferred hospital for cancer care in southeast Michigan, according to a survey by the National Research Corporation.
  • Karmanos, Mercy Memorial Hospital System of Monroe, and ProMedica Health System of Toledo, announce a joint venture agreement that will bring innovative, state-of-the-science cancer care to Monroe and the surrounding communities.


  • Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., a lung cancer specialist, is named president and chief executive officer of the Karmanos Cancer Institute.
  • For the fourth consecutive year, Karmanos Cancer Center is selected as the most preferred hospital for cancer care in southeast Michigan, according to a survey by the National Research Corporation.


  • Mercy Memorial Hospital System, ProMedica of Toledo and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center of Detroit announce the opening of the Monroe Cancer Center.
  • The Monroe Cancer Center, a joint venture between the three organizations, brings quality cancer care to Monroe County.


  • Patricia LoRusso, D.O., director of Phase I Clinical Trials and the Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics at Karmanos, was appointed co-leader of the Stand Up To Cancer and Melanoma Research Alliance Melanoma Dream Team.
  • Ann Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H., executive vice president of research and academic affairs at Karmanos, was awarded a five-year, $9 million grant to support her INHALE study, which looks at the links between smoking, inflammation and the development of lung cancer.


  • The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute joins McLaren Health Care to form the largest cancer network in the state of Michigan diagnosing and treating more than 12,500 new cancer cases each year.
  • NCI-Lead Academic Participating Site for the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN)


  • CAR T-cell therapy received FDA approval; Karmanos is one of 18 sites in the world that participated in its development.


  • Karmanos receives renewal of its National Cancer Institute (NCI) Core Grant. This renewal extends Karmanos’ prestigious NCI designation through 2025.


  • SoftVue™ 3D Whole Breast Ultrasound Tomography System receives FDA approval for use as an adjunct to digital mammography in screening asymptomatic women with dense breast tissue. This technology was developed by Delphinus Medical Technologies, LLC, which originated as part of Karmanos Cancer Institute.


  • Boris Pasche, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, president and CEO of Karmanos Cancer Institute, co-invented the TheraBionic P1 device, which received FDA approval in 2023 for treating advanced hepatocellular carcinoma.

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