Karmanos Cancer Institute celebrates 50th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, along with hospitals, researchers, advocates and policymakers across the country, recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act (NCA).

In 1971, President Richard Nixon amended the Public Health Service Act of 1944 to create legislation that would wage a “war on cancer.” The National Cancer Act established the current iteration of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and enabled the development of a national cancer program. It also empowered researchers by creating a clinical trial network, provided additional funding for cancer control programs and established an international cancer research data bank. Additionally, the National Cancer Act created a presidentially-appointed committee known as the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) to guide the development of NCI programs and the President’s Cancer Panel (PCP), which holds public hearings on cancer topics and submits a yearly report to the president.

“The National Cancer Act was a game-changer for cancer treatment and research,” said Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Karmanos Cancer Institute. “This legislation laid the groundwork for enhanced communication and elevated the nation’s commitment to curing cancer.”

Dr. Bepler recently spoke about the 50th anniversary of the NCA and what it means to be an NCI cancer center with Kevin Stevenson on the I Don’t Care podcast, which highlights health care executives and administrators who are solving unique issues in their industries. To hear his interview, click here.

The NCI Cancer Centers Program, a critical part of the 1971 act, recognizes centers around the country that meet rigorous standards for transdisciplinary, state-of-the-art research focused on developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer.

In 1978, just seven years after its inception, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated Karmanos Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center. At this time, Karmanos was known as the Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit. This designation is awarded to only 51 cancer centers throughout the country, and Karmanos is only one of two cancer centers with this designation in Michigan. To receive this designation, a hospital must demonstrate expertise in laboratory, clinical and population-based research. Hospitals must also provide early-phase clinical trials and conduct community outreach and educational activities. This means patients can access treatments exclusive to Karmanos, as well as cancer prevention programs and multidisciplinary teams of cancer specialists.

NCI-designated cancer centers play a vital role in advancing our goal of reducing morbidity and mortality from cancer. During our 43 years as an NCI-designated cancer center, Karmanos has contributed to many meaningful advancements in cancer treatment. Highlights include:

  • 1989 - Dr. Soule developed MCF-10, an immortal line of normal human breast cells. The cell line was the first of its kind to be cultured without the use of transforming agents and was used to study the earliest changes a normal cell undergoes in becoming cancerous.
  • 1998 - The National Breast Cancer Prevention Trial released news that the drug Tamoxifen, can reduce the incidence of breast cancer in healthy women at high risk for the disease by 50 percent. The drug was created with the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line established by the Institute in 1973.
  • 1999 - Dr. Wei-Zen Wei developed the HER-2 DNA breast cancer vaccine in 1999, which has been shown to be effective on drug-resistant tumors in mice.
  • 2017 - CAR T-cell therapy received FDA approval; Karmanos is one of 18 sites in the world that participated in its development.
  • 2021 - 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.

In addition to these accomplishments, Karmanos has served thousands of individual patients and saved lives with outstanding care, research and clinical trials. The past 50 years have seen remarkable progress in eradicating cancer, the second leading cause of death in the United States, but there is more work ahead of us. Karmanos looks forward to leading the way, along with other NCI-designated centers and the backing of the National Cancer Institute. Nothing will stop us.