Huntsman Cancer Institute's $100 million expansion will target children's and family cancers

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 7:00 p.m. MDT

Huntsman Cancer Institute addition rendering

Hunstman Cancer Institute, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Children's and family cancers are the target of new initiative announced Friday by the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The initiative includes the construction of a $100 million research facility to be built directly south of the Huntsman Cancer Institute headquarters.

The 220,000-square-foot facility will house new research activities into hundreds of forms of childhood and family cancers. The new addition will be named the Primary Children’s and Families’ Research Center in honor of one of the principal donors, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“This addition will make Huntsman Cancer Institute the largest genetic cancer center in the world,” said Jon M. Huntsman Sr., founder and principal benefactor of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Previous research conducted at the Huntsman Cancer Institute has determined that children who have cancer have a higher likelihood to pass on those cancers to their own children when they are adults, Huntsman said.

“We have much to learn about children’s cancer, and we’re deeply concerned that we put the same resources and manpower and efforts behind children’s and family cancers that we have in the past with melanoma, sarcomas, women’s various cancers, colon cancers and the rest of the cancer families,” he said.

Research into adult forms of cancer will continue as it has in the past, Huntsman said.

Construction of the facility will begin in spring 2014 and the expansion attract some of the top cancer researchers in the world. About 300 scientists will be hired to conduct the research. They will earn annual salaries in the range of $100,000, which means the project will also drive economic development, Huntsman said.

The facility and the research initiative were to be announced at a gala Friday evening.

The LDS Church, in a statement regarding the announcement, is “pleased to support this important effort and anticipate it will bless many lives throughout the community and surrounding areas,” said spokesman Cody Craynor.

The funding partnership also includes Intermountain Healthcare and the state of Utah, which has appropriated $2.5 million toward the facility. It is anticipated another $17.5 million will be funded by the state next year, Huntsman said.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute’s new initiative to target children’s and family cancer was welcome news to Sara Hancock, a Utah mother whose 4-year-old son, Carson, is undergoing treatment for leukemia.

The initiative is expected to attract some of the world’s top cancer researchers who will work in interdisciplinary teams, said Mary Beckerle, CEO and director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

"We are going to be able to accelerate our progress based on our new scientific evidence that childhood cancers are inherited. We believe we can do something absolutely exceptional and unparalleled here at Huntsman Cancer Institute," Beckerle said.

The three leading causes of death in children are leukemia, sarcoma and brain cancer, according to the institute.

“You want to have the best of the best here. You want them to know everything — not only how to cure cancer but to do it with the least amount of chemo, the least amount of radiation and the least amount of interference to a child’s life,” Hancock said.

Carson received his diagnosis two days before Mother’s Day in 2012.

“Everything in our world changed the day he was diagnosed,” Hancock said.

But after a couple of days of “crying my eyes out,” Hancock said she made a decision that the family would live life to the fullest.

“We don’t know what tomorrow will bring us, so we will make the best of this day. That’s what we do until this day,” she said.

Carson’s treatments are going well, and Hancock said Friday’s announcement gives her hope. Her grandfather underwent treatment for a form of melanoma at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The care and treatment was “amazing,” she said.

Watching her 4-year-old son go through cancer treatment has been “heart-wrenching.”

“I sometimes feel his childhood has been taken away from him,” Hancock said.

Beckerle said she was "absolutely thrilled on behalf of all cancer patients and their families that that the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, the Huntsman family and our partners are stepping up to accelerate our progress against this disease."

The Huntsman Cancer Institute is a world leader in cancer genetics, Beckerle said. Its scientists have discovered the inherited susceptibility genes for colon cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck cancer, and other forms of cancer, she said.

"We now understand that children's cancers also have a very strong inherited component," Beckerle said. "With our state-of-the-art technologies and largest genetic and population database in the entire world, we believe that, with this new facility, we're going to be able to move to learn more about genetic risks for children's cancer than has ever occurred in the past."

The Huntsman Cancer Institute is dedicated to push forward on its strong foundation of work with adult cancers, she said.

"But were going to be able to accelerate our progress based on our new scientific evidence that childhood cancers are inherited," Beckerle said.

While Huntsman said he is pleased with the signficant progress in cancer research and care coming from the institute, his goal from the beginning has been to "eradicate cancer from the face of the earth."

This project is the fourth major construction project by the Huntsman Cancer Institute since the inaugural cancer research center, with an outpatient clinic and an infusion lab, was completed in 1999. Next came a 50-bed cancer hospital, which opened in 2004. It was later expanded by 50 beds, opening in 2011.

"Hopefully we'll make this disease disappear one way or the other, and we're throwing everything at it we can in terms of dollars and in terms of wonderful scientific minds," Huntsman said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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