University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterPopularly known as the MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center at Houston is one of an original three U.S. comprehensive cancer centers established by the National Cancer Act of 1971, but its fascinating history reaches back much farther than that. Functioning as both a degree-granting academic institution and a cancer treatment and research hospital, the MD Anderson Cancer Center is part of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and one of a very few hospitals in the United States affiliated with two major research based medical schools: The University of Texas Medical School at Houston — part of the massive University of Texas Health Science Center, and Baylor College of Medicine.

For nine of the past 11 years, including 2012, MD Anderson has also been ranked No. 1 in cancer care in the “Best Hospitals” by the U.S. News & World Report annual survey.

Created by an act of the Texas Legislature in 1941 under which it was incorporated as a part of The University of Texas System, today MD Anderson is the largest freestanding cancer center in the world, and one of 41 Comprehensive Cancer Centers so-designated by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. The 631-bed facility occupies more than 14 million square feet, also operates an emergency department and an oncologic emergency center, employs more than 19,000 people working in

more than 50 buildings in the Houston area and in central Texas, and treated some 115,000 patients in Fiscal Year 2012, providing the latest technology and facilities to support outpatient and inpatient care, research, prevention, and education. During its first seven decades, MD Anderson served more than 900,000 patients, grew to lead the nation in the number of research grants awarded from the National Cancer Institute, and conducts more clinical trials than any other institution.


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md anderson house
M.D. Anderson’s home

A Rich History

But who is MD Anderson, anyway, and how did the Houston cancer center come to be named for him?

Monroe Dunaway Anderson (1873 – 1939) was a banker and cotton trader from Jackson, Tennessee, a small city 70 miles northeast of Memphis. Born June 29, 1873, Anderson was the sixth of eight children of James Wisdom Anderson, first president of Jackson’s First National Bank, and Ellen (Dunaway) Anderson — daughter of the Rev. William Monroe Dunaway, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister. Monroe Anderson attended Jackson’s public schools and studied at Southwestern Baptist

University at Memphis before going to work in Jackson’s other bank, the Peoples’ National, where he applied himself to learning the banking business.

In 1904, Anderson’s older brother Frank Ervin Anderson and Frank’s brother-in-law, William Lockhart Clayton, established a partnership to engage in buying and selling cotton. Finding that they needed more capital, Frank and Will invited Monroe to become a partner, thus establishing. The firm Anderson, Clayton and Co., with principal offices in Oklahoma City, a new city in the Oklahoma Territory’s bountiful cotton belt. In 1905, Ben Clayton, Will’s younger brother, was also made a partner, raising the partnership to four members — two Andersons and two Claytons.

Consistent with the strong Calvinist work ethic imparted by his Scottish Presbyterian ancestry and upbringing, frugality, thrift, industry, integrity, shrewdness, and acquisitiveness are cited as Monroe Anderson’s prominent personal characteristics. However he was also described as being noted for his friendliness, humility, kindness, humor, and disarming bashfulness.

The Anderson-Clayton partnership thrived thanks to a combination of Presbyterian dedication to productivity, good management, a measure of good fortune, and the capable efforts of its energetic principals, Anderson, Clayton and Co. grew to became the world’s largest merchandiser of what at the time was the most popular trading

commodity on the planet; and the company was known for nearly a century as “King Cotton;,” making the Anderson and Clayton brothers four of the wealthiest Americans of their time.

According to an article by the late Thomas D. Anderson — a nephew of Monroe D. Anderson — in the Handbook of Texas Online published by the Texas State Historical Association, and other sources, Monroe Anderson moved to Houston

in 1907 to take advantage of  the city’s proximity to the port of Galveston, more convenient access to larger banks and, eventually, to deep water shipping upon completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914. Houston became Anderson, Clayton and Co.’s headquarters in 1916, and M.D. Anderson served as chief financial officer of the company — later treasurer, and eventually president of the firm for a time. Illness forced his retirement in 1938, a year before his death. A lifelong Democrat, but never an active participant in politics, Monroe Anderson also never married and died childless, having lived for thirty years in a succession of downtown Houston hotels.

By the mid-1930s, Monroe Anderson and Will Clayton owned more than half of Anderson, Clayton and Co.’s stock, and apprehensive that in the event of one of the partners’ deaths, the corporation would forfeit a large sum of money to estate taxes, and possibly be forced to liquidate.  Partly for this reason, in 1936, M.D. Anderson created a firewall in the form the philanthropic MD Anderson Foundation, with an initial stake of $300,000. When Anderson died in 1939, the foundation received the bulk of his sizable estate  — some $19 million, $500,000 of which the Texas Legislature appropriated in 1941 to build a cancer hospital and research center. The Anderson Foundation’s charter didn’t specify precisely how its money should be used, but the trustees leaned strongly in the direction of health care, and the Foundation agreed to match funds with the state if the new hospital was to be located in Houston in the Texas Medical Center (another Anderson Foundation project) and named for Anderson.

Through the work of his foundation, MD Anderson became father and benefactor not only to the Texas Medical Center and the institution that bears his name, but also of many libraries, auditoriums, college buildings and even a planetarium in his native Jackson, where he is buried.  Thomas D. Anderson was a member of MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors from 1962 until his death in 2007, and chaired the board from 1965 to 1974. This writer is in his debt for much of the historical background outlined in this profile.

Institutional Beginnings

Creating a new cancer hospital and research center in the midst of World War II austerity proved a formidable challenge, with materials scarce, and construction not qualifying as contributing to the war effort or as essential to the health and safety of the people banned until cessation of hostilities. Doctors were also scarce with many away serving in the armed services.

However, particularly through the efforts of MD Anderson Foundation trustees Colonel William B. Bates, John H. Freeman and Horace M. Wilkins, who conceived a great medical center for Houston, and one Ernst W. Bertner, M.D., a prominent physician interested in cancer control, the MD Anderson Center got launched. initially housed in surplus World War II Army barracks, the hospital’s first operations base was out of temporary quarters on the James A. Baker estate at 2310 Baldwin Street in downtown Houston. During World War II, under the leadership of Ernst W. Bertner who served as first president of the Texas Medical Center, and acting director of the cancer center, during its organizational years from 1942-1945.

The Baker estate included substantial acreage, upon which several war-surplus buildings were added in the late 1940s, with 46 patients still being treated in those temporary quarters when the hospital moved to its current site in March 1954. The MD Anderson Cancer Center’s first permanent building with its pink marble facade today serves as the core of a complex of more modern buildings surrounding it, built of concrete and glass for a variety of practical reasons, not least that the Georgia quarry was depleted of pink marble before the demands of MD Anderson construction ran out.

In 1946, Randolph Lee Clark, M.D. became the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s the first full-time president, eventually serving in that capacity for 32 years until his retirement in 1978. Dr. Clark was succeeded by Charles A. LeMaistre, M.D., whose retirement in 1996 after 18 years ushered in the tenure of the Center’s third full-time president, John Mendelsohn, M.D., who served for 15 years until 2011 when the MD Anderson Center’s current president, Ronald DePinho, M.D., took the helm.

Over the years, the institution, now formally called the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has operated under five different official names, originally established  as the Texas State Cancer Hospital and the Division of Cancer Research in 1941, and a year later renamed MD Anderson Hospital for Cancer Research of The University of Texas to acknowledge and honor support from the MD Anderson Foundation. In 1955 the name was again changed to the University of Texas MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute at Houston. The University of Texas System was reorganized in 1972, leading to establishment of The University of Texas System Cancer Center, including both the hospital and research facility at Houston and the Science Park in Smithville. Yet another official name change came in

1988, to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in order to incorporate the worldwide name recognition associated with MD Anderson.

md andersonThe Present

Aside from its substantial contribution to heath care in Texas, and indeed the medical impact of its many achievements in cancer research, patient care, education and prevention worldwide, MD Anderson brings substantial economic benefits to the greater Houston region and the State of Texas.

A 2009 report prepared by The Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic and financial analysis firm, confirmed the Center’s  role as a vital contributor to regional and state economies. The study found that the MD Anderson Center’s operations, along with spending by students and patient family members, has an impact of:

  • $7.3 billion in annual spending
  • $3.8 billion in annual output
  • 51,960 permanent jobs
  • $181.1 million in annual state revenue
  • $108.2 million in annual resources for various local governments

The overall effects of all aspects of MD Anderson activity represent approximately two percent of Houston’s. economy. The full economic impact report can be downloaded (pdf) here.

In 2011 the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation gave $150 million to MD Anderson.[5] The new Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy is an international center of clinical excellence focusing on using the latest advances in genetic information to develop safe, more effective treatments for patients on a case-by-case basis.

The institution reports that In fiscal year 2012, MD Anderson invested more than $647 million in research, an increase of 33% in the past five years. The institution ranks first in the number of research grants awarded and total amount of grant funds given by the NCI and holds 12 NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grants in the following cancers: bladder, brain, breast, head and neck, leukemia, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and uterine.

Recently completed construction projects include two new research buildings on MD Anderson’s South Campus, the addition of nine floors that can accommodate more than 300 new inpatient beds in the Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital on the North Campus, and a 25-floor building on the Mid Campus to support current office space and future growth needs. The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Building for Personalized Cancer Care is under construction. The 12-floor, 615,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed in August 2014.

In addition to its main campus in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, the MD Anderson Cancer Center operates out of four regional care centers in the greater Houston area at Bay Area, Katy, Sugar Land, and The Woodlands, and two research campuses in Bastrop County, Texas, as well,as through a network of national and international locations.

Research Activities

Creation of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science has expanded MD Anderson’s research endeavor toward the goal of identifying and validating new cancer targets, converting expanding scientific knowledge into new cancer drugs, and advancing novel agents and therapies into innovative clinical trials through streamlined collaboration between academic medicine and the booming Texas biotechnology industry. The new Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy is an international center of clinical excellence focusing on using the latest advances in genetic information to develop safer, more effective treatments for patients on a case-by-case basis.

The McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer comprises seven translational research centers focused on genomics, proteomics, screening, diagnostic imaging and drug development. They include the Cancer Metastasis Research Center, Center for Cancer Immunology Research, Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Center for Molecular Markers, Proton Therapy Center, Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research, Center for Targeted Therapy and Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNAs.

In the facility’s Institute for Basic Science, researchers are working to better understand the makeup of healthy human cells, how they function under normal conditions and what happens when cancer develops. This knowledge will feed directly into clinical research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

eHRI meeting at MD AndersonEducation

In fiscal 2012, nearly 7,500 trainees, including physicians, scientists, nurses and allied health professionals, took part in MD Anderson educational programs. More than 300 students attended the institution’s School of Health Professions, which offers bachelor’s degrees in eight allied health disciplines. The school is launching master of science in diagnostic genetics program in this year.

More than 1,100 clinical residents and fellows come to MD Anderson each year to receive specialized training in the investigation and treatment of cancer, and more than 550 graduate students are working on advanced degrees at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which MD Anderson operates with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The institution’s laboratories provide training for 1,700-plus research fellows, while thousands more participate in continuing education and distance learning opportunities sponsored by MD Anderson, sharing knowledge around the globe.


The Center also provides public education programs to teach healthy people and at-risk populations about cancer symptoms and risk factors, offering information that can assist them in making critical health care decisions. MD Anderson continues to lead in cancer prevention research and the translation of new knowledge into innovative, multidisciplinary care for patients, survivors and people at average or elevated risk for developing cancer.

The Future

Looking ahead, the MD Anderson Center’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences is dedicated to eradicating cancer through pioneering research in the roles that biologic, genetic, environmental, behavioral and social factors play in cancer development and investigations of behavioral, surgical, medical and social interventions to prevent or reduce cancer risk. The Center sees its aspirational objectives as being further enhancement of the quality and value of patient care throughout the cancer care cycle, building on existing research programs and developing priority programs for the future. The Center is committed to providing top quality educational programs to fully address the needs of learners, and to accelerating discovery and translation of new knowledge about cancer risk assessment and prevention in the laboratory, the clinic and the community, and to enhancing and disseminating knowledge in all mission areas through collaborative and productive relationships locally, nationally and worldwide.