UH Cancer Center History

The UH Cancer Center was founded in 1971 as part of the Pacific Biomedical Research Center. It was established by the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents in 1981 as a free-standing independent research institute. Prior to 2011, it was known as the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi (CRCH). In its early development, the CRCH was supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Planning and Support Grants followed by initial NCI designation and funding from 1974 to 1985. In 1979, a construction grant from the NCI coupled with local matching contributions, supported the building of a five-story structure in downtown Honolulu. In 1996, CRCH regained designation by the National Cancer Institute and received funding from a Cancer Center Support Grant. Currently, the UH Cancer Center is conducting more than 100 cancer research projects in two interdisciplinary programs.

Historical Timeline

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Hawaiʻi.

ca. 1930s River St Oahu Hawaii

The Hawaiʻi Cancer Society is formed and later renamed American Cancer Society, Hawaiʻi Pacific Division.

Hawaiʻi becomes a state.

Seal of the State of Hawaii

The Hawaiʻi Tumor Registry is established and jointly operated by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health, Hawaii Medical Association and with funding from American Cancer Society (ACS).

Hawaii Tumor Registry logo

NCI recognizes Hawaiʻi’s unique potential as an epidemiologic resource for cancer studies. As a result, the UH School of Public Health receives federal support to study shifts in cancer risk among Japanese migrants to the U.S., with Richard K.C. Lee, MD, Dean Emeritus of the UH School of Public Health as the local Principal Investigator. This grant marks the beginning of demographic (population) studies at the school and was the forerunner of the cancer research center’s epidemiology studies.

Late 1960s
UH dedicates the Hawaiʻi Cancer Research Laboratory within the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics with funding by local businessman Maurice Sullivan through an American Cancer Society grant and UH scientist Leonora “Ma” Bilger, PhD.

Frederick C. Greenwood, PhD, DSc, director, UH Pacific Biomedical Research Center , and Lawrence H. Piette, PhD, a university biophysicist, propose expanding the research laboratory into a cancer research center whose aim would be “to undertake research into the cause, detection, treatment, and cure of cancer” by encouraging multidisciplinary research, training students, and creating awareness of cancer among the medical community and the public at large.

UH then President Harlan Cleveland asks former health director, Dr. Richard K.C. Lee to head a planning committee to integrate the laboratory and demography programs. The committee for the planned cancer research center includes representatives from the university, American Cancer Society, Hawaii Medical Association, and the community.


The UH cancer research center purchases and installs the first x-ray simulator machine at The Queen’s Medical Center to service the patients of Hawaiʻi. This machine enhances the accuracy and quality of radiation treatments as well as promote safety and reduce adverse effects. The cancer research center helps bring the first radiation physicist in Hawaiʻi to take charge of treatment dose calculations using the new x-ray simulator.

The cancer research center develops the first laboratory to perform estrogen/progesterone hormonal assays on breast cancer tissue.

The cancer research center acquires the first cell separator machine in Hawaiʻi through a family from Japan whose adult son has leukemia. It is located at the Kuakini Medical Center and used for the treatment of patients with blood-related cancers like leukemia.

The cancer research center performs the first human leukocyte antigens (HLA) tissue typing to screen patients and donors for blood compatibility related to use of the cell separator machine.

The Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi (CRCH) is established as part of the UH Pacific Biomedical Research Center

The CRCH receives federal funding for cancer research center planning grant.

The Hawaiʻi Tumor Registry joins the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology, & End Results (SEER) and the CRCH assumes its operation and management.

Lawrence H. Piette, PhD, becomes the first director (1974-1988) of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi (CRCH). The CRCH receives its first three-year core support grant from the NCI with Dr. Piette named as Principal Investigator, assisted by Ruth Denney, planning officer, and continues to receive a series of core support grants.

Dr. Lawrence Piette

The CRCH’s Clinical Sciences Program is established with Noboru Oishi, MD, as director and located in The Queen’s Medical Center.

The CRCH is awarded a five-year demonstration contract from NCI for community-based cancer control activities. This project was one of only six awarded nationwide.

The Cancer Information Line is established as part of the CRCH's Cancer Control Program.

The new CRCH building on the campus of The Queen’s Medical Center is completed and dedicated for cancer research activities with Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling as keynote speaker. The facility provides increased capacity for interdisciplinary research and increased community identification of CRCH.

Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, right; the CRCH Building on the left

UH Board of Regents establishes the CRCH as a free-standing organized research institute.

The CRCH becomes a member of Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) as the first of several national cancer cooperative study groups , which provide access to patients from Hawaiʻi to participate in cancer clinical trials.

The CRCH's laboratory program expands through recruitment of new faculty and a successful award in 1986 of almost $1 million in extramural funding.

The Cancer Information Line becomes the Cancer Information Service of Hawaiʻi (CIS-HI) through support from the NCI.

NCI Cancer Information Service

NCI Cancer Information Service of Hawaii

Brian Issell, MD, is appointed director (1988 - 1999) of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi.

Dr. Brian Issell
Dr. Brian Issell

The Waiʻanae Coast Cancer Research Project is funded by NCI to reduce the disproportionate cancer mortality from breast and cervical cancers among Native Hawaiian women. This groundbreaking study for Hawaiʻi is an early practical application of community-based participatory research to address cancer concerns of the Native Hawaiian community. It also utilizes trained navigators to conduct kōkua groups.

Waiʻanae Coast Cancer Research Project

The CIS-HI begins outreach services to community organizations to provide accurate cancer information messages to their constituents.


The Multiethnic Cohort Study begins.

Multiethnic Cohort Study Survey

The CRCH in partnership with the Department of Health and the American Cancer Society are founding members of the Hawaiʻi Skin Cancer Coalition .

Hawaii Skin Cancer Coalition logo

The Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi receives NCI-Designation (P30 Cancer Center Support Grant).
NCI Cancer Center Designation

The CRCH partners with pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to patent a drug from cryptophycins, anti-cancer compounds discovered by CRCH scientists in blue-green algae.

cryptophycin also known as blue-green algae

The CIS-HI develops “Coupons for Cure” program to promote clinical trials by assisting neighbor island cancer patients with interisland transportation in collaboration with local researchers.

Coupons for a cure

Dr. Brian Issell steps down as director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi and is succeeded by Carl-Wilhelm Vogel, MD, PhD (1999-2008).

Dr. Carl-Wilhelm Vogel

The CRCH’s NCI-Designation is renewed (P30 Cancer Center Support Grant).
NCI Cancer Center Designation
The CIS-HI partners with Kauaʻi Community College to expand outreach efforts to the neighbor islands.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Cancer Care in Hawaiʻi Final Report is submitted to Governor Benjamin Cayetano. The charge of the panel was to review the availability, quality, and access to information, resources, and services currently available to Hawaiʻi’s cancer patients and their families; to review the barriers which prevent easy access to these information and resources; and to make specific recommendations for improvement.

The Cancer Information Service of Hawaiʻi expands it's outreach services to the Pacific Region.

Catchment area map with Cancer information service logo


The first Hawaiʻi State Cancer Plan is unveiled and serves as a guide to the state’s cancer control and prevention efforts, and enhances the collaboration between public and private agencies for the next five years to achieve the state’s vision of “No More Cancer”.

Hawaii State Cancer Plan 2004-2009

The U56 Comprehensive Planning Grant is awarded to lay the groundwork for establishment of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi and the University of Guam (UOG) partnership to foster the development of a cancer research infrastructure at UOG, including a tumor registry, training of undergraduate and graduate students, and the training of postdoctoral candidates to become research scientists who will service the people of Guam.

UH Cancer Center logo 2004

University of Guam

The CURE (Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences) supplement to the CRCH's P30 Cancer Center Support Grant (2004-2018) provides cancer research training experiences to Hawaiʻi high school students and undergraduates from underrepresented minorities each summer.

CURE Interns

The tobacco tax increase bill becomes law and the CRCH receives additional funds which support the building and operations of the new Cancer Research Center in Kakaʻako.

Tobacco tax law SB2961

Michele Carbone, MD, PhD, replaces Dr. Carl-Wilhelm Vogel as director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi (2009-2014).

Dr. Michele Carbone
Dr. Michele Carbone

The Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi/University of Guam Partnership Grant (U54) is funded to support the cooperative activities.

UH Cancer Center logo 2009

University of Guam Cancer Research Center logo


The second Hawaiʻi State Cancer Plan is introduced and will serve as a guide for the next five years to achieve the state’s vision of “No More Cancer”.

Hawaii State Cancer Plan 2010-2015

Ground breaking and construction of the new Cancer Research Center facility in Kaka‘ako begins in October on the grounds of the John A. Burns School of Medicine.  Shortly after, Jeffrey Nakamura, lead architect from the firm of Shimokawa Nakamura is diagnosed with cancer.

Ground breaking at the new UH Cancer Center building

The Hawaiʻi Cancer Consortium (HCC) is established and is comprised of The Queen’s Medical Center, Hawaiʻi Pacific Health, Kuakini Medical Center, and the John A. Burns School of Medicine. The lead for the consortium is the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi. The Consortium represents a unified effort to coordinate and facilitate basic, translational, and clinical cancer research efforts benefiting all citizens of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Rim.

Hawaii Cancer Consortium

The Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi name and logo are replaced with the new name of University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center (UH Cancer Center) and a new logo.

University of Hawaii Cancer Center

The UH Cancer Center’s NCI-Designation is renewed (P30 Cancer Center Support Grant). At the end of September the UH Cancer Center facility is nearing completion, and the first wave of employees including administrative staff and researchers begin moving into the building in November. The last wave of UH Cancer Center staff moves in 2015.
NCI Cancer Center Designation

The Grand Opening of the UH Cancer Center occurs on February 23 with a blessing, entertainment, and science fair during the day and an evening reception.
UH Cancer Center ribbon cutting ceremony in Kakaako

Architect Jeffrey Nakamura oversees the UH Cancer Center project to its completion, creating a much admired LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified facility as his legacy. He passes away in June.

Jeffrey Nakamura

In November Dr. Michele Carbone steps down as director of the UH Cancer Center, and Jerris Hedges, MD, MS, dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, is named interim director of the UH Cancer Center.

The UH Cancer Center leads the clinical trials initiative funded by the National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) . The overall goal of the Hawaiʻi Minority/Underserved NCORP is to provide access and facilitate enrollment of Hawaiʻi’s diverse, multiethnic population to NCI-sponsored trials.

NCI Community Oncology Research Program:  A program of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center/University of Guam Partnership Grant (U54) is renewed.

UH Cancer Center logo

UOG logo


The UH Cancer Center participates in Vice President Joe Biden’s national Moonshot Summit along with other NCI-designated cancer centers across the country.

The third Hawaiʻi State Cancer Plan is announced and will serve as the guide for the next five years to achieve the state’s vision of “No More Cancer”.

Hawaii Cancer Plan 2016-2020

The UH Cancer Center helps establish a Hawaiʻi chapter of Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) to offer educational resources and programs beneficial to clinical research professionals.

Randall F. Holcombe, MD, MBA, is appointed director of the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center (2016 - 2021).

Dr. Randall F. Holcombe
Dr. Randall F. Holcombe


The UH Cancer Center kicks off the 20BY25 campaign to achieve enrollment of 20 percent of individuals diagnosed with cancer each year in Hawaiʻi onto clinical trials by 2025. Its mission is to educate cancer patients and their families about the value of cancer clinical trials, eliminate the fear about participation, and engage healthcare providers and community organizations in order to facilitate access and encourage enrollment to reduce the burden of cancer and move One Step Closer to cure.

20BY25 One Step Closer to Cure

The National Cancer Institute-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI-MATCH Trial) is a precision medicine cancer treatment clinical trial. In this trial, patients are assigned to receive treatment based on the genetic changes found in their tumors through genomic sequencing and other tests according to the NCI. The UH Cancer Center is one of the top sites of enrollment for the trial across the nation.

Image courtesy of National Cancer Institute
NCI-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI-MATCH) infographic


The UH Cancer Center’s NCI-Designation is renewed (P30 Cancer Center Support Grant).
NCI Cancer Center Designation

The Multi-Ethnic Cohort study celebrates its 25th year anniversary with a large number of participants in the study and participating scientists from around the world coming together for a day of festivities and seminars at the UH Cancer Center facilities in Kaka’ako.

Multiethnic Cohort 25 year anniversary


The NCI approves the addition of the Family Health Plan (FHP) Health Center in Guam to its NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) in January. This affiliation with the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center’s Minority/Underserved NCORP will allow patients on Guam to participate in NCI-sponsored cancer clinical trials under the leadership of Samir Ambrale, MD, medical oncologist.

FHP Logo

Dr. Samir Ambrale

The Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state’s largest private health insurance company joins the Hawaiʻi Cancer Consortium.

Hawaii Cancer Consortium

The state legislature with advocacy and sponsorship of Senator Breene Harimoto, provides $6.5 million to support building out the first and second floors of the UH Cancer Center annex shell space for use as an Early Phase Clinical Research Center.

The UH Cancer Center receives an additional $6.5 million from the NIH to augment this funding for a research-focused outpatient facility for Early Phase Clinical Trials. These trials will bring the very leading-edge cancer therapeutics in development to the patients of Hawaiʻi for the first time adding a new level of access for local cancer patients to the newest investigational treatments. In addition, the funds will support the first in Hawaiʻi Tumor Organoid facility to develop state of the science tumor organoid models representing the diversity of the population of Hawaiʻi. This facility will help study the mechanistic biological basis of cancer disparities and develop new therapeutics that are designed for Hawaiʻi's populations starting at the discovery phase.

View our Early Phase Clinical Research Center (EPCRC) Renderings
Early Phase Clinical Research Center Rendering
EPCRC Main entrance rendering


The Hawaiʻi Cancer Consortium (HCC) agreement is renewed. Adventist Health Castle joins the HCC as a new clinical member.

Hawaii Cancer Consortium

The UH Cancer Center receives $1.36 million grant for the CREATE program to train undergraduate students during the summer and graduate students in the fall and spring semesters through multidisciplinary hands-on cancer research experiences under the mentorship of UH Cancer Center researchers.

UH Cancer Center interns, postdoctoral fellows

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center/University of Guam Partnership Grant (U54) is renewed.

The first Clinical Research Professional Certificate program, in collaboration with the UH Mānoa Outreach College, is initiated to help fill the need for clinical research associates in the islands.

Clinical Research Professional Certificate