In 1962, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened its doors amid an emotionally charged debate regarding how to treat childhood cancer. At that time, few children with the most common form of childhood cancer survived, and many physicians believed treatment was futile.
St. Jude physicians and researchers took a radically different approach, and these efforts proved pivotal in changing the way the world treats childhood cancer. St. Jude is recognized for playing a significant role in improving overall survival rates for childhood cancer, which have increased from 20 percent in 1962 to 80 percent today.
In recognition of this impact over the past 50 years, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declared February “St. Jude Month” in the state of Tennessee. Founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, the hospital opened February 4, 1962.
“In the nearly four decades I’ve been at St. Jude, I’ve had the privilege of watching the organization grow from one star-shaped building to a sprawling campus of about 2.5 million square feet of research, clinical and administrative space,” said Dr. William E. Evans, St. Jude director and CEO.
“When I started, there were a few hundred people on staff. Now we have more than 3,700 employees. Driven by our patients, and thanks to our employees, our colleagues at ALSAC and the public support they generate, St. Jude will only continue to grow and flourish in the years to come.”
The history of St. Jude is marked with milestones in the treatment of pediatric cancer and other childhood illnesses. In 1971, St. Jude investigators showed that the combination of chemotherapy and radiation cured at least half of all children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The most common form of childhood cancer, ALL, was previously considered almost universally fatal. Today, St. Jude patients with ALL have a 94 percent survival rate. In 1984, a St. Jude patient with sickle cell disease was the first to be cured with a bone marrow transplant.
St. Jude is currently engaged in the largest effort in the world to do whole genome sequencing of pediatric cancer tumors. The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project collaboration has already produced significant new findings related to aggressive forms of pediatric leukemia, eye tumors and brain tumors.
“St. Jude has a legacy of taking on the toughest of pediatric cancer questions, and that focus won’t change,” said James R. Downing, M.D., scientific director and deputy director at St. Jude. “We’re uniquely positioned as an institution to move research and treatment ahead. From the genetic data we collect from the genome project, we’re creating the foundation of knowledge to deliver the next decades’ childhood cancer discoveries and treatments.”
Throughout its five decades, St. Jude research has included work in cancer biology and genomics, pharmacogenomics, gene therapy, bone marrow transplant, drug discovery, radiation treatment, blood diseases and infectious diseases, integrated into a long series of innovative clinical trials.
According to Joseph Laver, M.D., St. Jude clinical director, “the unsurpassed family-centered care that is provided at St. Jude stems from the multidisciplinary team approach that has been a hallmark of St. Jude since the doors opened in 1962.”
“Looking toward the future, St. Jude is a national resource with a global mission and will continue to enhance its leadership as a resource for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases,” Evans said. “Even though we’ve grown significantly, our mission has never wavered.
We’ve created a collaborative culture whose team members demonstrate unceasing compassion for our patients and families, innovation in our treatment and research, and quality in everything we do.”
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