In 1985, Dr. Joseph E. Walther sold the Winona Memorial Hospital and used the $37 million in proceeds to establish the Walther Medical Research Institute (shortly after, renamed Walther Cancer Institute). Motivated by his wife’s battle with colon cancer, Walther created the institute with the goal of eliminating cancer by providing financial resources and support for research, patient care innovation, and education. As an institution without walls, it would focus on strengthening interdisciplinary and interinstitutional research.

One woman pipettes liquid into a glass tube in a lab. Another woman watches. Both are wearing lab coats.
Walther Cancer Institute annual report, 1991 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

As part of the institution’s mission, the Walther Cancer Institute established relationships with a number of statewide medical and educational institutions. One of the first was the Hoosier Cancer Research Network, a statewide organization of oncology physicians and nurses who conduct clinical trials. This network operated under the umbrella of the institute until becoming independent in 2007.

In 1986, the institute made an agreement with the Indiana University School Of Medicine to establish the Walther Oncology Center at the IU Medical Center. The institute quickly began supporting laboratory research programs at other locations like Purdue University Center for Cancer Research and later the Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

A man in a lab coat gestures towards a computer.
Research at the Walther Cancer Institute, 1989 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

The Mary Margaret Walther Program for cancer care research at the Indiana University School of Nursing was created from the support of the Walther Cancer Institute in the late 1980s. Over the next few decades, the institute became affiliated with other organizations including the Community Health Network, Iu Health, and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette.

By 2000, the Walther Cancer Institute had provided over $38 million for research, collaborating with major universities throughout Midwest. Because of these funds, researchers have contributed to a range of significant research, including the development of stem cell transplants and the coordination of Indiana’s participation in a large-scale study testing a new drug for the prevention of breast cancer.

Two men in lab coats works with scientific equipment.
Walther Cancer Research Institute, 1990 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

In 2007, the Walther Cancer Institute merged into the Walther Cancer Foundation, allowing it to become a private, grant-making foundation. The foundation continued to work towards its mission, now with more independence. This same year, the foundation initiated a collaboration between Purdue University Center for Cancer Research and the Indiana University School of Medicine. This collaboration provided cross-training for science and engineering students in cancer detection and treatment. What resulted was the Walther Oncology Physical Sciences and Engineering Research Embedding Program, which was fully funded by 2009.

Throughout the 2010s, the Walther Cancer Foundation funded many new programs and collaborations. In 2011, the foundation went global by partnering with IU Simon Cancer Center in supporting a new oncology institute in Kenya. Back in Indiana, the foundation supported the creation of several programs with the Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame. It facilitated a collaboration between HCRI and IU School of Medicine for the Advancing Basic Cancer program (2011), funded Engineering Novel Solutions to Cancer’s Challenges at the Interdisciplinary Interface at the HCRI (2013), and aided HCRI in establishing a partnership with oncologists in South Bend (2014).

A group of people stand on stairs and pose for a group photo.
Walther Cancer Institute group, 1992 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

In 2017, the foundation supported the establishment of the Walther Supportive Oncology Program at the IU School of Medicine. It also provided support for the IU Simon Cancer Center and the Regenstrief Institute to develop a program in Cancer Informatics and Data Science. This same year, the Walther Cancer Foundation Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Endowed Award and Lecture was established to recognize leaders in oncology.

The foundation, along with the American Society of Clinical Oncology, created another award in 2019. The Conquer Cancer – Walther Cancer Foundation Career Development Award in Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology, which provides research funding to clinical investigators.

The Walther Cancer Foundation has provided more than $165 million in cancer research and continues to support innovative research in hopes of fulfilling its founder’s dream of curing cancer.

Revised March 2021

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