UACC History

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1980 1985 1990 1995 2010 2015 2020 2025 2000 2005



Founded in 1976 by Sydney Salmon, MD, the University of Arizona Cancer Center began exploring the concepts of personalized cancer care and translational research from its inception—long before most researchers saw their paradigm-shifting promise.

Forged by a team that included Steve Jones, MD, Brian Durie, MD, and David Alberts, MD, the University of Arizona Cancer Center quickly became a hub of innovation and collaboration that inspired leading clinicians and basic scientists across multiple disciplines to devote their lives to preventing and curing cancer.

In its nascence, the Cancer Center was named a leading National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center of Excellence. Within two years, it received its first NCI Cancer Center Support Grant––a grant that has been competitively renewed each subsequent review period since that time.

In 1990, the NCI designated the UArizona Cancer Center as one of the first comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, and it is still the only comprehensive cancer center headquartered in Arizona. Along with the other 54 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers across the country, the UArizona Cancer Center must continue to meet rigorous standards for “transdisciplinary, state-of-the-art research focused on developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer.”

Cancer Center Director, Dr. Sydney Salmon, MD 1986


Dr. Salmon, along with Anne W. Hamburger, PhD, pioneered a cancer research approach that involved attempts to clone myeloma cells and test various anticancer drug interventions on these “stem cells” to reduce patient risk while developing the best possible treatment plan.

For this work, Drs. Salmon and Hamburger filed a patent, “Primary Bioassay of Human Tumor Stem Cells,” which was granted in 1983. Their research was featured on the cover of Time, and, according to the April 1985 edition of the American Association for Cancer Research Journal, was applied “to various studies of basic cancer biology, pathology, cellular interaction, and cytogenetics, as well as for cancer diagnosis and testing of Phase II agents and preclinical drug screening of new compounds.” This cloning procedure led to countless breakthroughs, particularly for Dr. Salmon’s longtime collaborator, Dr. Alberts, who served as the Cancer Center director from 2005–2013.

“We laid the foundation for what would become personalized or precision medicine,” Dr. Alberts said in an interview. “We did some of the first work in the field, and we had a visionary in Syd Salmon who was certain that this was going to become the standard of care one day.”

In the late 1970s, when ovarian cancer was one of the most difficult forms of cancer to successfully treat, screening techniques could not detect ovarian cancer in its earliest stages, and treatment options were limited.

Dr. Alberts developed a method to administer ovarian cancer therapies directly into the abdomen or pelvis through a tube, targeting unhealthy cancer cells, while leaving healthy surrounding tissue unharmed. The procedure, known as intraperitoneal therapy, has become the safest, most reliable, and most successful form of ovarian cancer treatment currently available.

The team also began investing in the next generation of cancer researchers. In 1978, they earned a federally funded Cancer Biology Training Grant with Eugene Gerner, PhD, as principal investigator. From this grant, the Cancer Center eventually established the Cancer Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in 1988. By 2013, the Cancer Biology Interdisciplinary Program had 74 doctoral students who graduated from the program.

Cancer Center Director, David Alberts. MD


Meanwhile, Cancer Center researchers were also advancing the field of cell and tissue testing. Thomas Grogan, MD, and his team invented one of the most important technological advances in the field of cancer research and diagnosis––an automated slide processor to improve the accuracy and expediency of vital tissue tests.

Dr. Grogan, a world-renowned researcher and pathologist, knew that an automated process would lead to faster, more precise analysis. His goal was to take this inexact, labor-intensive process and turn it into an automated assembly line, which would lead to better data and more time for researchers to test their theories.

Dr. Grogan founded Immunodiagnostics Inc. in 1985, which launched its first commercially marketed product, Ventana 320, in 1991. This machine could process 40 slides per run for eight runs per day, drastically improving both the accuracy and the expediency of these vital tissue tests.

What began as a small startup developed into a global industrial giant. Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche purchased the company, renamed Ventana, in 2008 for $3.4 billion.


While Dr. Grogan was in the process of redefining tissue analysis, he teamed up with a clinical oncologist, Thomas Miller, MD. He discovered that correlating patient outcomes with laboratory test results by treating microscopic metastases rather than a visible mass has saved more than 10,000 lives worldwide.

Dr. Miller learned about the University of Arizona through a groundbreaking paper Dr. Salmon published with Brian Durie, MD, on the topic of multiple myeloma. Drs. Salmon and Durie created the Durie/Salmon Staging System, which is still used worldwide to evaluate myeloma patients, and was the beginning of translational research. Together, Drs. Miller and Grogan tested biopsies with newly created antibodies and correlated patient outcome with laboratory results.

In 1979, Dr. Miller authored a paper in The Lancet that discussed the use of treatment on what seemed to be less aggressive lymphoma subtypes at first glance. This type of systemic treatment strategy would develop into the standard of care for lymphoma patients. Also that year, to multiply the innovation, Dr. Salmon began a successful series of cancer research conferences, which brought the world’s top oncologists to Tucson for a week of the “Olympics of cancer research” where they exchanged ideas and debated their merits.


In the early 1980s, the Cancer Center team moved from the sixth floor of the University of Arizona Medical Center building to a free-standing redwood trailer in today’s Radiation Oncology facility.

Despite the meager location, their work attracted top-notch post-doctorate fellows, including Jeffrey Trent, PhD; Frank Meyskins, MD; Daniel Von Hoff, MD, FACP; and countless other transformational figures in the field of cancer research.

In 1986, the Cancer Center opened the 49,239 Levy building. In 1998, the center added the 73,187-foot Salmon Building. By 2007, the North Clinical building was opened followed by the Orange Grove Clinical building in 2011 prior to the center’s affiliation with Banner health in 2014.

University of Arizona Cancer Center 1986
Dr. Thomas Miller (left) and Dr. Thomas Grogan (right)


In 1998, the Cancer Center opened the Sydney E. Salmon building. After Dr. Salmon’s death in 1999 until 2003, Dr. Von Hoff led the Cancer Center and established the Therapeutic Development Program. Dr. Von Hoff was internationally known for his expertise in the development of new anticancer agents. His objective was to make the Cancer Center a worldwide leader in offering patients, whose tumors had become resistant to all standard treatment, the newest therapies to work against their disease.

By the end of that year, the Cancer Center had 10 new developmental trials through the establishment of a New Therapeutics Group, chaired by Robert T. Dorr, PhD, director of the Cancer Center’s Pharmacology Research Program facilitated by Judy Turner, RN, OCN.

The multidisciplinary group, which met weekly, included everyone at the Cancer Center involved in patient care or who was working to develop new therapies: hematologic, surgical, gynecologic, radiation, pediatric, and medical oncology specialists; research nurses; basic science researchers; data management experts; and members of the administrative team. Their goals were to review the status of ongoing clinical trials (including side effects and antitumor activity), to present new agents for development, and to discuss molecules discovered in the laboratory that will become targets for drug development.

In 1997, the Center became one of the first in the nation to launch a DNA microarray facility and to establish a research program in “functional genomics” headed by Bernard Futscher, PhD. Rather than one gene at a time, scientists now can use a microarray printer and reader to spot and analyze more than 5,000 genes on one slide.

Early in the 21st century, the National Cancer Institute hoped to establish personalized, individually tailored treatment as the standard of care for all cancer patients. With the human genome successfully sequenced in 2003, researchers were given the key that would go toward identifying an individual’s susceptibility for specific forms of cancer, along with the treatment options that would give each patient the best chance of success.


Dr. Alberts significantly increased the focus on cancer disparities research, developing a focus on public education and outreach programs on cancer prevention and screening, with an emphasis on underserved populations.

In 2002, the Cancer Center partnered with Northern Arizona University to develop the Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention (NACP) to alleviate the unequal burden of cancer among Native Americans. It is still active today. NACP is one of 16 National Cancer Institute Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity, but the NACP partnership in Arizona is the only one dedicated solely to the Native American population.

In addition to scientific leadership in laboratory and clinical research, the Cancer Center serves communities in Southern Arizona and the broader public by integrating training and education for multidisciplinary researchers and health care professionals.

University of Arizona Cancer Center Salmon-Levy Building, 2023
Cancer Center Expansion Construction, 1999 Cancer Center Director, Daniel Von Hoff, MD 1999


There is only one foolproof cancer treatment method––to avoid cancer in the first place.

The University of Arizona Cancer Center is one of a small number of NCI-designated cancer centers that spotlights prevention.

“From the very beginning, it was our mission to do everything in our power to stop cancer in its tracks, so it couldn’t even have the opportunity to impact a person’s life,” said Dr. Alberts. “From the groundbreaking colon-cancer-preventing drug combinations developed by Eugene Gerner, PhD; to the use of Melanotan in the field of skin cancer prevention; to Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RD, CSO, and her world-renowned work in health and nutrition, the University of Arizona Cancer Center has hosted many researchers who have spearheaded some of the most innovative pre-cancer work in the science world.”

The Cancer Center continues its work in cancer prevention today with work done by Hsiao-Hui (Sherry) Chow, PhD, co-director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program. Dr. Chow and University of Arizona Cancer Center member Aaron Scott, MD, Clinical and Translational Oncology Program, who are partnering with investigators from 14 university cancer centers and clinics across the U.S to conduct a study testing a combination of vaccines for cancer prevention in Lynch Syndrome, a genetic disease. After three years of foundational work, the national team has launched its Phase 1 trial.


Raymond B. Nagle, MD, PhD, was interim director in 2003, followed by Dr. Alberts that year. Dr. Alberts served as the Cancer Center director for 10 years, retiring in 2013.

As a component of Dr. Alberts’ responsibility for leading the University of Arizona Cancer Center Cancer Prevention and Control Program, he and senior members of the cancer center became intensely interested in primary skin cancer prevention.

In the late 1980s, they successfully competed for a National Cancer Institute Program Project Grant focusing on Prevention of Skin Cancer that has been funded ever since. As a clinician and a scientist, Dr. Alberts saw the impact that skin cancer, including melanoma, had on individuals and local communities. He envisioned a center at the University of Arizona that would bring together clinicians, lab scientists, behavioral researchers, and educators to address the increasing incidence of all forms of skin cancer.

His dream, with the efforts of other Arizona faculty, led to the founding of the Skin Cancer Institute in April 2005, funded by the Bert W. Martin Foundation. Prior to Dr. Alberts’ retirement, construction began on The University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center/Dignity Health in Phoenix.

Ann Cress was appointed interim director of the Cancer Center in 2013 until Andrew S. Kraft, MD, was appointed director in 2014. Within one year of his appointment, he successfully re-competed the Cancer Center Support Grant and opened the Cancer Center facility in Phoenix.

During that time, Kraft established the office of Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) and the Community Advisory Board comprised of 20 diverse members from across the catchment area. This led to the successful partnership with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. They hired their first tribal community cancer navigator and co-led a tribal clinical navigation program to increase colorectal cancer screening across tribal communities in Arizona.

The COE established the Research Outreach for Southern Arizona program to enrich the relationship between basic science and the local communities. Partnering with the Cancer Center’s Population Sciences, COE also characterized the catchment area and initiated the first Population Health Assessment for the center.

Cancer Center Director, Andrew Kraft, MD 2014 Peter and Paula Fasseas Cancer Clinic, 2023


Juanita L. Merchant, MD, PhD, serves as interim director. She is a Regents Professor of medicine and chief of the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

With her appointment in 2019, Dr. Sweasy became the first female and first basic scientist to serve as a permanent director of the Cancer Center.

Formerly the associate director of basic science at the Yale Cancer Center, Dr. Sweasy is an internationally recognized expert in the genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry of DNA repair. Her dedication to advancing cutting-edge care, research and treatment led the center through the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and into a new time of transdisciplinary discoveries and translation, compassionate care, and training of researchers to help erase inequities through science, engagement, respect and conviction.

In 2021, the Cancer Center established The Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute with a $8.5 million gift from the donor. The goal of the center is to increase collaboration between researchers with different specialties and between researchers and clinicians.

In late 2023, Dr. Sweasy was named director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center and the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Rachna T. Shroff, MD, is the interim clinical affairs director. She is a professor of medicine, associate dean of clinical and translational research, and chief of the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Division of Hematology and Oncology.

Clara N. Curiel-Lewandrowski, MD, is the interim director of research. She is the co-director of the UArizona Skin Cancer Institute, a professor of medicine and chief of the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Division of Dermatology.

Through its groundbreaking innovations and dedication to multidisciplinary collaborations, the Cancer Center will continue to serve as leaders in personalized cancer care and translational research.

Today, the Cancer Center’s more than 70 research labs and more than 175 nationally and internationally renowned physician and scientist members work to bring the power of research to cancer prevention and treatment through a direct link between the latest research discoveries and personalized patient care. Their work is leading the drive to address the five greatest concerns in the Southern Arizona catchment area––gastrointestinal cancer, genitourinary cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma. In their specializations, Cancer Center bench scientists and clinicians are continuing the legacy of ground-breaking discoveries that are altering the course of cancer prevention, treatment and cure.

For example, Cancer Center researchers are now exploring the work of using technology to hamper proliferation in malignant cells. Cancer Center member Elisa Tomat, PhD, professor in the University of Arizona Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Cancer Center, has a patent application pending on her discovery of a new class of iron-targeting compounds to hamper proliferation in malignant cells called iron prochelators.

Cancer Center member Wei Wang, PhD, recently discovered a new method of activating specific molecules to target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed, called click-release proteolysis targeting chimeras, or crPROTACs––molecules that scientists have designed to break down specific proteins in the body and are being explored as a potential treatment for cancer. Dr. Wang, PhD, is a professor at the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy, co-director of Arizona Center for Drug Discovery, and member of the BIO5 Institute and UArizona Cancer Center.

Cancer Center member Cynthia Miranti, PhD, and her team are using human cells in their own microenvironment to discover how prostate cancer begins, metastasizes to bone, and develops drug resistance by developing the first successful Prostateon-a-Chip model that recreates the development and differentiation processes that occur in a normal human prostate gland. Dr. Miranti is a professor in cellular and molecular medicine and the BIO5 Institute, and chair of the Cancer Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program.

The Microscopy Shared Resource (MSR) is a new, advanced microscopy facility located at the UA Cancer Center, servicing the immediate needs and future demands of biomedical and translational researchers. The MSR provides several advanced instruments and services for all UA researchers, including confocal microscopy, super-resolution microscopy, slide scanning, live cell imaging, multiphoton and intravital imaging, advanced image analysis, and much more. In addition to providing advanced instrumentation and imaging services, the core facility is a model of academic collaboration. MSR provides a space for on-site workshops, imaging seminars highlighting cutting-edge imaging approaches, demonstrations of next components/ instruments, and support to the broader imaging community by building an “imaging culture” on campus.

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