Cancer Survivorship

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital celebrates 50 years

Memphis, Tennessee, February 4, 2012

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.”

St. Jude Recognitions

1995 Charles Sherr, M.D., Ph.D., of St. Jude Tumor Cell Biology, is elected into the National Academy of Sciences.
1996 Peter C. Doherty, Ph.D., then chair of the St. Jude Department of Immunology, wins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work that led to a better understanding of the immune response.
2006 St. Jude is named the No. 1 “Best Place to Work in Academia” by The Scientist magazine.
2007 St. Jude is designated one of six Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
2008 St. Jude is designated as a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center, making it the first and only cancer center solely focused on pediatric cancer to receive this distinction.
2009 Parents magazine names St. Jude as the No. 1 pediatric cancer care hospital in the country, based on the magazine’s survey of more than 100 children’s hospitals.
2009 St. Jude scientists who represent the interdisciplinary team studying ALL receive the Team Science Award from the American Association for Cancer Research.
2010 Nurses and staff in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Jude are recognized in 2009 and 2010 by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses with the Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence.
2010 St. Jude is named the nation’s top children’s cancer hospital, according to the 2010-11 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings published by U.S. News & World Report.
2012 In 2011 and 2012, St. Jude is named one of the country’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” by FORTUNE magazine.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Since opening 50 years ago, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has changed the way the world treats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. No family ever pays St. Jude for the care their child receives and, for every child treated here, thousands more have been saved worldwide through St. Jude discoveries. The hospital has played a pivotal role in pushing U.S. pediatric cancer survival rates from 20 to 80 percent overall, and is the first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted to children. It is also a leader in the research and treatment of blood disorders and infectious diseases in children. St. Jude was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, who believed that no child should die in the dawn of life. Join that mission by visiting or following us on and

St. Jude Media Relations Contacts

Summer Freeman
(desk) (901) 595-3061
(cell) (901) 297-9861         
Carrie Strehlau
(desk) (901) 595-2295
(cell) (901) 297-9875

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