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Facts About Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

The mission of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is to provide expert, compassionate care to children and adults with cancer while advancing the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, and prevention of cancer and related diseases. As an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a Comprehensive Cancer Center designated by the National Cancer Institute, the Institute also provides training for new generations of physicians and scientists, designs programs that promote public health particularly among high-risk and underserved populations, and disseminates innovative patient therapies and scientific discoveries to our target community across the United States and throughout the world.

Dana-Farber is:

  • A principal teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
  • One of only 40 Federally-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States.
  • One of only 20 designated centers for AIDS research in the United States.
  • A pioneer in the development of cancer treatment models used around the world.
  • A collaborator with Brigham and Women's Hospital in adult oncology (Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center) and Boston Children's Hospital in pediatric oncology (Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center).
  • Founding member of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, a Harvard research consortium involving seven academic, research and medical institutions.

Key advances made by Dana-Farber scientists and researchers:

1940s

  • Established the principles of chemotherapy and proved it could be used as an effective cancer treatment.
  • Attained temporary remissions of acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer.

1950s

  • Achieved the first remissions of Wilms' tumor, a childhood malignancy.

1960s

  • Developed the means to collect, preserve and transfuse blood-clotting factors called platelets to control bleeding, a common side effect of chemotherapy.

1970s

  • Discovered the role of the first human oncogene, a gene that, when altered, spurs cancer's development.
  • Formed the principles of combination (multiple drug) chemotherapy and proved its effectiveness by dramatically increasing cure rates for several cancers.
  • Showed chemotherapy, in addition to surgery and/or radiation therapy, reduces many tumors to operable size, and even renders some surgery unnecessary.

1980s

  • Pioneered autologous (self) bone marrow transplants.
  • Introduced a blood test for ovarian cancer and, later, a test for recurrent breast cancer.
  • Identified the receptors on T-cells, human immune cells, that allow them to recognize invaders, and showed the role of specific T-cells in the immune system.
  • Demonstrated the changes in the immune system wrought by the AIDS virus.

1990s

  • Demonstrated that a genetic flaw implicated in cancer development can be inherited.
  • Discovered a group of genes that raise susceptibility to a common inherited form of colon cancer and several other malignancies.
  • Uncovered cell receptors that bind to the AIDS virus. Using sophisticated imaging techniques, researchers detailed the structure of the receptor that links to the virus.

2000s

  • Discovered that Gleevec (STI571), a drug that achieved striking success against chronic myelogenous leukemia, can shrink and even eliminate tumors in some patients with a rare and otherwise incurable form of gastrointestinal cancer called GIST.
  • Established a genetic connection between a rare disease called Fanconi anemia and BRCA1, a gene that, when defective, is the most common source of inherited breast cancer.
  • Found that the drug gefitinib produces dramatic benefits in non-small-cell lung cancer patients who carry an abnormal version of a protein known as EGFR.
  • Achieved a medical first when researchers used a "targeted" drug to drive a patients' metastatic melanoma into remission.
  • Identified a group of normal human antibodies that neutralize the vast majority of flu viruses known to cause disease in people, a step toward the development of powerful new weapons against virus transmission and flu outbreaks.

Unique programs at Dana-Farber include:

  • The Friends of Dana-Farber Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic, established in 1993 as one of the first genetic testing programs for members of families with an inherited susceptibility to cancer.
  • The David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic, which provides survivors of childhood or adolescent cancers with medical, educational and psychosocial services.
  • The Patient and Family Advisory Council, a group of adult patients, family members, and Dana-Farber staff who advocate on behalf of patients and families at DFCI and Brigham and Women's Hospital. The council brings the perspective of survivors to the administration and staff to help with decision making and problem solving.
  • The Eleanor and Maxwell Blum Patient and Family Resource Center, which houses pertinent books, pamphlets, audio and video tapes, and computers with World Wide Web access to help patients and family members find information on cancer-related topics.
  • One to One: The Cancer Connection, a volunteer support network that brings together cancer survivors and their families with others whose lives are affected by the disease.
  • The Back to School Program, sponsored with Boston Children's Hospital, designed to help children with cancer make the difficult transition back to school. The program uses peers, family, and Dana-Farber-trained school personnel to help deal with the concerns these children often experience.