40 Days of Wistar

40 Years as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Center

2012 marks the 40th Anniversary of Wistar’s designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Center. Of the approximate 1,500 cancer centers in the United States, fewer than 70 have earned the honor of an NCI designation. NCI-designated Cancer Centers are known for their scientific excellence and their ability to employ a range of research approaches to investigate and fight cancer. In 1972, the NCI named The Wistar Institute as the first of these distinguished institutions in Philadelphia, and Wistar has proudly maintained its high standard of cancer research excellence.

This 40th Anniversary of the NCI Cancer Center designation is a milepost in the journey between an era of near-ignorance and the time when each cancer case can be understood and treated in terms of the individual biology of that patient’s tumors.

When Congress passed the National Cancer Act in 1971, truly little was known at the time about the underlying biology of cancer. Since then, institutions like Wistar have sought to fill in the gaps of our knowledge while providing new avenues of investigation toward better detection and treatment of the disease.

We're celebrating!

From October 8 through November 15, 2012, we're sharing stories, videos and images that highlight Wistar's history of innovative cancer research and the progress we're making today. Check back daily for new information about Wistar science then and now, our heritage of excellence, and cool videos and pictures.

Let the 40 Days of Wistar begin!

Week 0ne: The Mechanics of Cancer

October 8, 2012

In 1961, Wistar Institute researcher Leonard Hayflick, Ph.D., discovered that a normal cell population can divide only a limited number of times before it stops. A fundamental concept in modern biology, the Hayflick Limit relates to the genetic instability in aging cells and the development of cancer.

October 9, 2012

Dynamic stemness” is a phrase coined by Wistar researcher Meenhard Herlyn to describe the ability of any given melanoma cell to take on the role of a cell-growing cancer stem cell, thereby replenishing tumors that may otherwise have been decimated by targeted therapeutics.

October 10, 2012Giorgio Trinchieri

In 1989, Wistar Institute researcher Giorgio Trinchieri, M.D., discovered interleukin-12, a cell signaling protein that helps regulate the body’s resistance to infections and cancer. In cancer therapy, interleukin-12 is used as a biological response modifier to boost the immune system.
[In the image at right: Giorgio Trinchieri, M.D.]

October 11, 2012

One route to cancer is through viral infection. Viruses such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) can cause genetic errors to accumulate over time, eventually leading to cancer. Researchers are developing new vaccines and other therapies to boost the body's own immune system to attack these virus-related cancers. Lately, Wistar researchers helped map the EBV genome to help find a path to defeating the virus.

Dr. Ertl in China

Hildegund C.J. Ertl, M.D., director of Wistar's Vaccine Center, is launching an early stage clinical trial of a new vaccine to treat HPV-caused cervical cancer, while Wistar researcher Paul Lieberman, Ph.D., is developing new therapeutics that would attack EBV-related cancers.

[In the image at left: Dr. Ertl (right) meeting with partners on the HPV vaccine in China.]

October 12, 2012

In 2008, Wistar Institute scientist Emmanuel Skordalakes, Ph.D., became the first to decode the structure of telomerase, the enzyme that conserved the ends of chromosomes (telomeres) and is a factor in limiting the number of times a normal cell can divide (see the Hayflick Limit above).

Week Two: Tumor Biology

October 15, 2012

The Wistar Institute has created new tools for melanoma research, including three-dimensional “artificial skin” that serves as a model for studying how tumors behave. Read more about this and other work going on in the Herlyn lab.

October 16, 2012

In 1979, Wistar patented the method of producing monoclonal antibodies against malignant tumors.

October 17, 2012

The tumor microenvironment involves the chemical conversations going on between cancerous cells and the cells that surround and support them. It is the tumor microenvironment that makes it possible for tumors to change from benign to malignant to metastatic. Recognizing the importance of the tumor microenvironment, the Institute created a new Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis research program.

October 18, 2012

It's breast cancer awareness month, and Wistar is active in the fight against this disease. Elizabeth Pesce and her family

Recently, in the laboratory of Qihong Huang, M.D., Ph.D., researchers identified two microRNAs—small molecules that help to regulate gene expression—that promote the spread of tumors. This breakthrough pinpointed the effects of KLF17, a key gene involved in the spread of breast cancer throughout the body. Huang also demonstrated that expression of KLF17 together with another gene (Id1) known to regulate breast cancer metastasis accurately predicts whether the disease will spread to the lymph nodes. Read more here

Don't miss the video of our Leadership Council member, Elizabeth Pesce, talking about her breast cancer experience and why she supports Wistar.

October 19, 2012

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a viral genus of the viral group known as Herpesviridae. Research now links CMV to a number of different forms of cancer including breast, colon, and a form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma. Over the years, several Wistar scientists, notably the late Gerd Maul, Ph.D., pursued vaccines for cytomegalovirus.

Week Three: Immunology

Stanley Plotkin, M.D.October 22, 2012

Stanley A. Plotkin, M.D., [pictured at the left] began work on a rubella vaccine during the 1960s after a pandemic swept across the United States and Europe and left some 12,000 infants deaf, blind, or with both impairments. In 1969, his successful rubella vaccine became widely available. Thanks to Plotkin’s vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared rubella eradicated in the United States in 2005.

October 23, 2012


Leonard Hayflick, Ph.D. and Paul S. Moorhead, Ph.D., develop WI-38 cell line in 1962, which becomes key in making vaccines. It serves as the basis for many safe vaccines, including the vaccines Wistar developed against rubella and rabies.

October 24, 2012

Two of our vaccines—one for humans, one for animals—have prevented numerous rabies infections, which are almost always fatal if left untreated. Rabies causes 55,000 deaths annually around the world. Learn more about rabies.

October 25, 2012

Wistar Institute scientists are working to develop a universal influenza vaccine that would be effective against all strains of flu, including avian flu. Flu researcher Scott Hensley, Ph.D., and his Vaccine Center colleagues are trying to devise “universal vaccine” for seasonal influenza: a single vaccine that will enable people to forgo an annual flu shot.

October 26, 2012

The rotavirus vaccine developed at Wistar helps prevent an infection that kills more than 500,000 kids each year globally.

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that is the most common cause of severe dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children. The early research that underpins the vaccine was conducted by three scientists at The Wistar Institute and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) between 1980 and 1991, at which time Merck took on the task of developing the vaccine, marketed as RotaTeq, for the clinic.

Week Four: History of the Cancer Center

Cancer Research Building sketchOctober 29, 2012

In 1972, we began to create the wing of Wistar that would give us the space to embrace our new focus on cancer. This is the 1973 architectural sketch of the Cancer Research Building, designed by Mansell, Lewis and Fugate Architects.

October 30, 2012David Kritchevsky and Thatcher Longstreth

David Kritchevsky, Ph.D., a pioneer in cholesterol research, and Thatcher Longstreth, legendary Philadelphia City Council member, chaired the campaign to provide matching funds to the NCI grant that built Wistar's Cancer Research Building, opened in 1974. 

[In the image at right: David Kritchevsky, Ph.D. (L) and Thatcher Longstreth (R).]

Museum and skeleton x-rayOctober 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! Here’s a view of the anatomical museum that was formerly housed on the first floor of our 1894 Building. At the time of the photo (the 1960s), it was rare indeed to have a full x-ray of a human skeleton. Today, this wing comprises the labs of Ken-ichi Noma, Ph.D., and Kazuko Nishikura, Ph.D., both of whom are members of the Gene Expression and Regulation program in the Cancer Center. Times have changed!

November 1, 2012

Since 2000, nearly 1,000 researchers, including predoctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scientists have trained at The Wistar Institute.

November 2, 2012Nixon and Rauscher

Cancer research begins at home in the Rauscher family. Our researcher Frank J. Rauscher, III, Ph.D., is the son of Frank J. Rauscher, Jr., Ph.D., who was the first director of the National Cancer Institute, appointed by President Nixon. In this pic, the National Cancer Act had just been signed. From left to right: Elliott Richardson, Frank J. Rauscher, Jr., and President Richard Nixon in 1972.

Week Five: The Wistarchives

Wistar sword with bloodstain rustNovember 5, 2012

The Wistar Archives preserve the history of The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, its role as the nation's oldest independent biomedical research institute, and of the Wistar family as related to The Institute.

In the Archives, The Wistar Institute possesses the sword that Brigadier General Issac Wistar used during the Civil War at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, in October, 1861. Wistar was injured in battle, and his soldiers used the sword to help stabilize his wound. He refused to remove the blood from the sword in commemoration; hence the sword shows rusted bloodstains today.

Original design of 1894 Building

November 6, 2012

Well-known Philadelphia architects the Hewitt brothers designed the original structure for The Wistar Institute for Anatomy and Biology built in 1894. It was designed to be as fireproof as it could possibly be, and here it remains today, still in excellent shape.

November 7, 2012

David Kritchevsky, Ph.D.

Former Wistar researcher David Kritchevsky, Ph.D., was the leading pioneer in cholesterol research from the 1950s though the late 1990s. He investigated links between dietary protein and cholesterol, and links between types of fat and other diseases including heart disease and colon cancer. He was also known widely in the lipid science community for creating funny songs and poems about science, and Nobel laureate Michael Brown once remarked, “You know you’ve really arrived when you’ve made it into Dave’s Christmas poem.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The culminating event of the 40 Days of Wistar is nearly upon us! Join us as we throw a party at WHYY on November 15 to celebrate our the 40th Anniversary of our NCI Cancer Center designation and progress in cancer research. Tomorrow is the last day to register!

Friday, November 9, 2012Wisteria outside the CRB

The botanist Thomas Nuttall said he named the genus of the flowering plants in the pea family Wisteria in memory of his friend Caspar Wistar, M.D. (1761–1818), for whom The Wistar Institute is named.

Final Week

Colonial currencyMonday, November 12, 2012

Secret money in a box! Wistar archivist Nina Long noticed a box in our vault one day that she’d never seen before, and recognized Issac Wistar’s handwriting on the top. She opened the box and found a pile of colonial currency! This money had been left to Issac, our founder, by his grandfather Jones (who had once been mayor of Philadelphia). In the pre-Revolutionary era, money was printed for specific uses, such as supporting the army, or protecting the port, and it had expiration dates: after a certain point, it was just worthless. But these notes, with Benjamin Franklin’s signature, are certainly valuable to us! Read more in Wistarchives in Focus magazine.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Known familiarly as "Teatime at the Wistar Institute," this picture from our Archives shows Shinkishi Hatai, Ph.D., second from the left and Henry Donaldson, Ph.D., then Scientific Director, third from the left. Teatime at WistarDr. Hatai was the first international scientist to join the Wistar faculty, and later became known as the father of Japanese biology.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On this day in 1827, our founder Issac J. Wistar was born. Happy 185th birthday, Issac, and thanks for giving us another reason to celebrate.

We can’t wait to see you at WHYY on Thursday night, celebrating 40 years of basic cancer research with us!

Test tube drinksLast day!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You’ve joined us from the first fact to the last, and it’s been a blast having you along. We’re so thrilled that you’ve celebrated with us as we highlight how proud we are to be the first NCI-designated Cancer Center in Philadelphia. We hope to see you tonight at WHYY!

[At left: We're feeling celebratory! Have a test tube drink on us.]