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hand holding petri dish at research lab

The Kimmel Cancer Center spans 35 departments and 5 schools across Johns Hopkins University. At the centerof that growth is our research component. How we conduct our research and translate those results aims directly at the core of our mission: Improved patient care.

Research Programs

Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics (previously Cancer Biology)

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Cancer Immunology

Cancer Prevention and Control

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Cancer Chemical and Structural Biology

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Cancer Invasion and Metastasis

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Heme Malignancies and BMT

Milestones of Discovery

Milestones Timeline

  • Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee elected President of the American Society for Cancer Research.
  • Skip Viragh Outpatient Cancer Building opens.
  • CancerSEEK, a single blood test that screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the cancer, developed.
  • Participate in first large-scale study of prostate cancer in African-American men.
  • Anti-PD-1 immunotherapy before lung cancer surgery dramatically shrinks tumors.
  • Higher mutational burden predicts which cancer types will respond to immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors.
  • Mismatch repair discovery leads to the first-ever FDA approval of a cancer drug based on a specific genetic profile without regard to where in the body the cancer started.
  • Pediatric oncology site for first CAR-T immunotherapy clinical trials.
  • Center to Reduce Cancer Disparities oversees increase in minority and female participation in clinical trials.
  • Drug targets cellular machinery called POL1, on which cancer cells rely.
  • New immunotherapy drug developed to kill cancer cells by disrupting cell metabolism.
  • Development of blood test that detects tumor-derived DNA in patients with early-stage cancers.
  • The Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy launched.
  • Mutations in mismatch repair genes found to be biomarker of response to immunotherapy.
  • Anti-PD-1 immunotherapy shown to improve survival in non-small cell lung cancer patients; also used successfully to treat a rare type of virus-linked skin cancer, called Merkel cell carcinoma.
  • A personalized cell therapy, called MILs, using immune cells grown from patients' own bone marrow, is used to treat multiple myeloma.
  • The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital opened, adding medical oncology and surgical oncology to the already established and growing Radiation Oncology Program.
  • Molecular method called BEAM distinguishes between women who only need routine mammography from those who are at high risk and need additional preventive measures to avoid breast cancer.
  • Construction of the Johns Hopkins Proton Therapy Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital begins.
  • The John Fetting Fund for Breast Cancer Prevention brings together leaders to launch research in cancer prevention and control.
  • CT and MRI-assisted brachytherapy used to treat gynecologic cancers.

Download the Historical Timeline 

Research Highlights

researcher at lab

Johns Hopkins researchers pioneered research that defined cancer as a genetic disease.  These discoveries led to the first genetic tests for a hereditary cancer and a screening stool test for colon cancer.

Johns Hopkins investigators completed the first map of a cancer genome, deciphering the genetic blueprints for colon, breast, pancreatic, adult and pediatric brain cancers. 

Personalized genome sequencing:  of the cancers for which all genes have been sequenced, most have been done at the Kimmel Cancer Center. These discoveries have paved the way for personalized therapies with our investigators undertaking the first use of personalized genome scanning to reveal the gene mutation that caused a person’s inherited form of pancreatic cancer.

Working to understand the effects of methylation patterns on genes, the hallmark of epigenetic alterations, our scientists have used this molecular trail of evidence to develop broad-based cancer screening tests, monitor patients for cancer progression and recurrence, and to determine surgical margins by revealing cancer cells invisible to the human eye.  Research linking DNA methylation to the leukemia precursor myelodysplastic syndrome led to the first FDA approval of a demethylating agent and earned the team recognition from the NCI for the most outstanding research in the SPORE program.

Kimmel Cancer Center researchers were among the first to develop therapeutic cancer vaccines. The Center is home to a GMP facility that allows scientists to produce the vaccines for clinical trials. Among the most successful of the vaccines is a pancreas cancer vaccine that turns on the immune system and leads immune cells, typically blind to cancer, to attack cancer cells in the pancreas and throughout the body was developed here.  Other vaccines for cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia also were developed here.

Kimmel Cancer Center researchers were among the first to perform bone marrow transplants to treat blood and immune-forming cancers. Now, they have expanded upon this early expertise becoming the first to perform haploid (half)-identical transplants, increasing the number of patients who can take advantage of the curative therapy.  Breakthroughs managing graft vs. host disease have made transplants possible for patients who do not have identical donor matches.

Unique collaborations among leaders in science and medicine as well as engineering, physics, and other disciplines have allowed our Center investigators to tackle problems of great scope and obtain solutions that would not otherwise be possible.

Additional Research Programs and Services

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