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Carbone Cancer Center


The McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research was established in 1940 as one of the first basic cancer research facilities in the world. The foundation for the development of the Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin's program in experimental cancer research was made possible by the generous donations of private citizens.

In the 1930s, a bequest in the will of Jennie Bowman established the Jonathan Bowman Memorial fund in memory of her father, a prominent state senator. This fund provided the seed money for the initiation of a cancer research program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The Bowman funds initially were allocated for fellowships to promising young investigators interested in studying cancer. One of the Bowman Fellows, Dr. Harold P. Rusch, became the first Director of the McArdle Laboratory and established the cancer research program at the University of Wisconsin.

The construction of the first McArdle building resulted from a bequest by Michael W. McArdle, a prominent Chicago industrialist and attorney from Door County Wisconsin. Expanded facilities, funded by the National Cancer Institute, were provided by the construction in 1964 of the present McArdle Laboratory.

Serving as the Director until 1972, Dr. Rusch (with help from Associate Director Dr. Van R. Potter) charted the course for the Laboratory's scientific future by recruiting a staff of talented young scientists, whose creativity and productivity soon earned the McArdle Laboratory an international reputation for excellence in cancer research. In 1973, Dr. Rusch established the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center, the clinical research complement to the McArdle Laboratory. From 1972-1991, Dr. Henry C. Pitot, a prominent pathologist and oncologist, provided the leadership as the center expanded its program. Dr. Elizabeth C. Miller, who with her husband and scientific partner, Dr. James A. Miller, laid the groundwork for the field of chemical carcinogenesis, also played a key leadership role in the administration of the center, serving as the Associate Director of the Laboratory from 1973 until her death in 1987. In 1992 Dr. Norman R. Drinkwater assumed the directorship, and Dr. Bill Sugden became the Associate Director of the McArdle Laboratory. The McArdle and Comprehensive Cancer Center NCI cancer center support grants were consolidated under Dr. John Niederhuber in 2001. In 2006, Dr. F. Michael Hoffmann took over as Associate Director and in 2008 assumed the Interim Directorship after Dr. Drinkwater stepped down as Director. From September 1, 2009 until August 31, 2014 Dr. James D. Shull was the Director of the McArdle Laboratory. On September 1, 2014 Dr. Paul F. Lambert became the new Director of the McArdle Laboratory.

In its early years, a major focus of McArdle's research program centered on studies of chemical carcinogenesis. McArdle scientists established the basis of the chemical induction of various cancers and discovered how known carcinogens initiate the genetic changes in cells that result in tumor formation. Early studies also focused on the biochemistry of cancer cells and how they differ from normal cells. Gradually the focus of the research program was expanded to other areas of cancer research including the role of viruses in the causation of cancer and, more recently, the roles of oncogenes and developmental processes in cancer.

For additional information about the history of the McArdle Laboratory and cancer research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, see "Something Attempted, Something Done", by Harold P. Rusch, University of Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association, 1984.

Contributions to Cancer Research

1939 Harold P. Rusch showed that a high-fat or high-calorie diet accelerated the production of cancer in mice.
McArdle Laboratory was established as the first basic cancer research facility in an academic institution in the United States.
1941 Harold P. Rusch found the wavelength of ultraviolet light that produces skin cancer.
1950s - 1970s Elizabeth C. and James A. Miller's discovery that most carcinogens must first be converted to "active" forms is the single most far-reaching explanation for how diverse chemicals cause cancer. This knowledge is fundamental to our understanding of how the common cigarette or the rare fungal toxin causes cancer.
1951 Van R. Potter's theory of "enzyme inhibition and sequential blocking" led to the use of multi-drug therapy for cancer patients.
1956 Fluorouracil was first synthesized by Charles Heidelberger and developed by Hoffmann LaRoche; this drug has been used extensively to treat breast, ovarian, stomach, and colon cancers.
1960s - 1970s Roswell K. Boutwell illuminated the role of high-fat diets in the development of cancer, especially breast cancer. Boutwell was the first to propose that vitamin A plays a role in preventing cancer; clinical trials have now shown that high doses of a vitamin A derivative prevent lung, throat, and mouth cancer.

Henry Pitot’s early studies at the McArdle Laboratory demonstrated that the environmental regulation of gene expression in primary and transplanted hepatocellular carcinomas was defective and significantly different from that in normal liver.  Pitot also served as the Director of the McArdle Laboratory from 1973 until 1991.

1970 Howard M. Temin discovered reverse transcriptase (independently discovered by David Baltimore at MIT). The discovery of this enzyme helped to explain how retroviruses cause cancer and AIDS.
1970s - 1990s Alan Poland's identification and characterization of the TCDD receptor has revealed how a large class of environmental contaminants contribute to cancer.

F. Michael Hoffmann and his colleagues, by using the power of fruit fly genetics, identified two novel pathways that interact with the Abl gene, a common target in leukemia.

Jeffrey Ross isolated and characterized the first enzyme that regulates the stability of messenger RNA.

Richard Burgess discovered a new class of monoclonal antibodies, called polyol-responsive, that are ideal for rapid, gentle purification of unstable cellular proteins.

Norman Drinkwater and his students identified three genes that determine the risk of inbred mice for developing liver cancer.  These genes may serve as models for inherited factors that influence human cancer risk.  Drinkwater also served as the Director of the McArdle Laboratory from 1992 until 2008.

1984 Bill Sugden and coworkers discovered the mechanism by which the cancer-causing Epstein-Barr virus grows in infected human cells.
1990 William F. Dove and Amy Moser isolated the mutant Min mouse, the first animal model for familial colon cancer; this has provided a tractable route for the study of this common human tumor.
1940s - 2000s McArdle faculty have trained over 1300 pre- and postdoctoral students in basic cancer research, many of whom are leaders in the field today.
2000s - today Paul Ahlquist and his colleagues discovered that three broad classes of viruses - including those that harbor the agents that cause such diverse ailments as AIDS, the common cold and cancer-causing hepatitis C - share functional traits that suggest they all evolved from a common ancestor.  A better understanding of such commonalities may lead to the development of broad-spectrum antiviral agents.

Paul Lambert discovered that estrogen contributes to not only the establishment but also the persistence and malignant progression of cervical cancers in a mouse model for human cervical cancer.  This discovery has potential implications in the clinical management of cervical disease.

Michael Gould developed the means to generate rats null for desired genes allowing the detailed study of the contributions of BRCA1, BRCA2, and APC genes to the development of breast and colon cancers in this model organism.  Rats null for APC, a model to study colon cancer, were generated by William Dove in collaboration with Michael Gould.


McArdle faculty have received numerous national and international prizes and awards in recognition of their scientific achievements. The McArdle faculty also have been instrumental in affecting cancer policy in this country beginning with Dr. Rusch's activities in the 1940s. A well-known leader in cancer research, Dr. Rusch served as a member of the Yarborough Committee that drafted the National Cancer Act of 1971. McArdle faculty have continued to play a significant role in NCI and American Cancer Society (ACS) review panels and study sections, committees, and in scientific advisory boards. Faculty also are active in many professional activities, serving as members of numerous editorial boards and professional organizations. A few of their activities are listed below.

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