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Roswell Park Marks 120 Years: Imagining the World’s First Cancer Center

In 2018, we mark our 120th year, and invite you to explore the life of our founder, our rich heritage and promising new advances on the horizon at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Although Dr. Roswell Park treated patients with many different conditions, he felt especially challenged by cancer. It “kills thousands of people annually in this State…but has so far baffled the ingenuity and the ceaseless efforts of individuals for centuries,” he wrote.

After coming to Buffalo in 1883 to serve as chairman of the University of Buffalo Medical School, Dr. Park began to focus more intently on the mystery of cancer.

As deaths from other diseases fell, cancer started to climb the list as a leading cause of death in the U.S. Dr. Park predicted that the number of cancer cases would continue to rise around the world — and he was right.

Park wanted to create an institute dedicated solely to the study of cancer and equipped with modern tools to understand and control it.

With that model in mind, in 1897 he traveled to Albany to meet with Governor Frank S. Black and members of the New York State Legislature. He asked them for $10,000 to establish a cancer research laboratory at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine. Both houses of the legislature passed the bill, but Gov. Black shot it down with a veto. “I cannot approve a proposed policy which requires the state to engage in the investigation of the causes of various diseases…” he declared.

Dr. Park did not give up. The following year he rallied the power of the press with the support of Buffalo Evening News Editor Edward H. Butler and other editors around the state. Under pressure in an election year, Gov. Black finally saw the light, approving an act of the New York State Legislature that provided a $10,000 grant for “faculty [and] the equipment and maintenance of a laboratory to be devoted to an investigation into the causes, nature, mortality rate and treatment of cancer.” Named the New York State Pathological Laboratory of the University of Buffalo, the institute was housed in the U.B. Medical School on High Street.

“There is no work more needed in the world than to discover the cause of cancer,” added W. W. Kean, Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in New Jersey. “Dr. Park has done more work and better work than any other person in America in this direction.”