Teaming up against cancer for 25 years

When it comes to cancer research, hundreds of heads are better than one. That was the belief of the late physician-scientist John Kersey, M.D., who in 1991 founded the University of Minnesota Cancer Center, as it was originally named. His vision: break down academic silos and bring scientists together to collaborate and advance research faster — and get cancer breakthroughs to patients as quickly as possible.

Twenty-five years later, the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, has become one of the elite cancer centers in the country. It’s one of 45 National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a designation that has been renewed (after an intensive, extremely thorough review process) three times. Among its 565 members representing dozens of academic disciplines are some of the world’s leaders in research on blood and marrow transplantation, childhood cancers, cancers of the breast and bone, cancer genetics, tobacco control, immunology, therapeutics development, and epidemiology.

As the Masonic Cancer Center marks its silver anniversary, U researchers continue to build on that legacy — having performed the world’s first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968 — by finding cancer causes, identifying better therapies, and improving outcomes to create and provide the gold standard in cancer care. Here are some highlights of the Masonic Cancer Center’s first quarter-century.  


The University’s Board of Regents approves the establishment of a cancer center as part of the Academic Health Center. John Kersey, M.D., is named director. 

John Kersey, M.D.


The U takes a leading role in the NCI-funded Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, designed to track and minimize harmful long-term health effects of cancer and its treatment.

Doctor and patient from a NCI-funded Childhood Cancer Survivor Study


With a lead gift of $5 million from Minnesota Masonic Charities and contributions from many other community supporters, the Masonic Cancer Research Building opens to provide a collaborative research environment focused on the causes, prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer.

Historical construction shot of the MCRB being built


U researchers find and modify an ancient inactivated fish gene to move segments of DNA in mammalian cells. This “Sleeping Beauty” gene allows scientists to modify genetic defects and identify new cancer-causing genes.


University of Minnesota Cancer Center receives NCI designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center.


U physicians perform the first successful double cord blood transplant.


Bag of cord blood


The Minnesota Legislature enacts the Freedom to Breathe Act, which bans smoking in public places, backed by hard facts from U cancer researchers showing that tobacco-specific carcinogens are detectable in nonsmokers exposed to smoke in public settings.

Douglas Yee, M.D., is named the Cancer Center’s second director, succeeding Kersey.

Douglas Yee, M.D.


Minnesota Masonic Charities donates a record-breaking $65 million to the University for cancer research, resulting in a new name for the U’s Cancer Center: Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

Unveiling of the Masonic Cancer Center name.


The Phase I clinical trial to test Minnelide, a University-made drug that has successfully disrupted pancreatic cancer growth in laboratory tests, begins. 

Masonic Cancer Center members discover that the enzyme APOBEC3B fuels cancer formation and growth.

Masonic Cancer Center members manufacture and test a novel new drug to treat lymphoma.

The University celebrates the opening of the “gateway” to the Biomedical Discovery District, the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building.

Masonic Cancer Center name on CCRB


With compelling evidence on the link between tanning bed use and melanoma from Masonic Cancer Center researchers, the Minnesota Legislature makes a law that prohibits minors from using indoor tanning beds. 

Tanning Bed


Masonic Cancer Center researchers publish results of a national clinical trial showing that low-nicotine cigarettes may help smokers quit.


With $10 million in support from Minnesota Masonic Charities’ Partners for Life campaign, the Masonic Cancer Clinic moves to the new, state-of-the-art University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center.

Outside of the Clinics and Surgery Center Building
Published on April 5, 2016

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MCRB Building past and present

See more Masonic Cancer Center milestones from the last 25 years at