Huntsman Cancer Institute opens new research center

The University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) has opened a 225,00-square-foot expansion which it said doubles its laboratory space for cancer research.

The new Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center cost $173 million and can support up to 800 additional staff members. With its opening, HCI’s namesake, Jon M. Huntsman, committed to give another $120 million to the institute.

“From the very beginning, our goal has been to build an unrivaled cancer treatment and research campus that is at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Huntsman said in a statement. “With this expansion, we're one step closer to realizing our vision to eradicate cancer from the face of the earth.”

According to HCI’s press release, the facility will enhance research efforts through features like a biotechnology center, with new imaging and advanced genetic sequencing equipment. It will also house resources like “cancer biostatistics, genetic counseling, genomics and bioinformatics analysis, research informatics, and the Utah Population Database.”

“This new research space is essential to HCI's mission to relieve the suffering of cancer patients by better understanding cancer, and applying that understanding to the development of new ways to treat and prevent cancer," said Mary Beckerle, PhD, CEO and director of HCI. “HCI is more committed than ever to accelerate progress against cancer. We will now be able to expand our research to address the most devastating cancer challenges, including childhood cancers and cancers that run in families. The work we are doing here in Utah will bring comfort and cures to millions of families around the world.”

Beckerle said the additional space will mean an immediate ramp-up in hiring. HCI is first looking for “roughly 40 new faculty group leaders,” each of whom will lead teams of between six and eight researchers, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The opening almost came under the watch of a new director, thanks to a controversial feud between university leaders. Beckerle was fired from HCI in April by University of Utah Health CEO Vivian Lee, MD, PhD. Her dismissal was opposed by Huntsman, who took a full-page newspaper ad to bash the decision and threatened to withhold his previously promised donations to the school. Beckerle was soon reinstated and Lee chose to resign.