December 2019

The Year of the Core Grant: A Look Back

In 1990, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center—then the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute—first received National Cancer Institute designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. Each year since, we have worked collaboratively to maintain this exclusive designation, consistently demonstrating our expertise in laboratory, clinical, and population-based research. As I reflect on 2019, which we deemed the Year of the Core Grant, I am grateful, humbled, and inspired not only by the extraordinary amount of work that has gone into our grant submission and preparations for our site visit, but by the volume, impact and quality of our everyday work—the cancer research and continued pursuit of knowledge and better treatments—that justifies our inclusion as one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States.

We kicked off 2019 by launching our new website at, with a refreshed design and refined navigation structure that make it easier for fellow scientists and physicians to learn about our work. This year also brought us—both Hillman and me personally—onto Twitter, where we’re engaging with colleagues throughout the world. Hillman faculty traveled a great deal in this past year, presenting at national and international meetings from the American Association of Cancer Research in Atlanta to the European Society of Medical Oncology in Barcelona, and many more in between. We also made a trip to Washington, D.C., as part of Hill Day with the American Association of Cancer Institutes and encouraged Pennsylvania legislators to continue funding cancer research. We have successfully collaborated with our colleagues in the vast Hillman Cancer network to dramatically increase clinical trials and accruals by nearly 40% harnessing the intent and vision of a unified Hillman Cancer Center.

In the past twelve months, Hillman has presented 14 pilot awards, nine collaborative research awards, and three team science awards and co-funded three pilot awards with the Institute for Precision Medicine and five pilot awards with the UPMC Aging Institute—and the number of grants and awards our faculty have received from outside organizations far exceeds these totals, demonstrating a strong return on investment in outstanding science. Attendance at our 31st Annual Scientific Retreat in June also exceeded past totals with a record-setting 466 faculty, students, and guests in attendance.

Thank you all for your ongoing work, dedication, and commitment to not only Hillman, but also to the broader endeavor of cancer research. I wish you all the best for this holiday season, and a happy, healthy, and productive New Year.


Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD