A Unique Basic Research Campus of the MD Anderson Cancer Center
The Texas Legislature established the Science Park in 1971 as an educational and research facility for the cooperative study of the interaction between humans and the environment.
After the legislature approved a bill that activated the Science Park and appropriated funding for its initial planning, MD Anderson acquired 717 acres of land near Smithville, Texas from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to develop the site. In 1977, construction of the original buildings (a conference center, two laboratory facilities, and a guest residence) was completed, and the campus was formally dedicated as a research center for the study of cancer cause and prevention.
One of the founding scientists at Science Park was immunologist Jim Allison, Ph.D., who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Tasuku Honjo, M.D., Ph.D. for developing cancer treatment methods that allow an individual's immune system to attack tumor cells. Dr. Allison started his independent research career at Science Park, where he later defined the basic structure of the T-cell receptor, a molecule required to initiate the adaptive immune response.
From the onset, the multidisciplinary teams assembled at Science Park brought unique focus to complex problems in cancer research, and its research programs grew rapidly.
During the 1980s, support buildings were added to aid research. These included an animal support facility, a physical plant, and a warehousing facility. A third laboratory building, the Ralph and Lillian Meadows Molecular Biology Facility, was built in 1992.
One of the breakthrough discoveries made during this time was finding the critical link between smoking and cancer. Smoking causes nearly 90% of lung cancers and it had been known for decades that cigarette smoke contributed to cancer, but the underlying reason for this was unknown.
Moon-shong (Eric) Tang and collaborators found that cells treated with a specific chemical carcinogen from cigarette smoke caused DNA damage at specific sites commonly mutated in lung cancer. These "mutational hotspots" were in a gene that encodes the protein p53, an important tumor suppressor.
The Cockrell Foundation donated $5 million in 1998 to create the Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Science Park.
In 1999, The University of Texas Board of Regents approved a formal graduate degree program in Environmental and Molecular Carcinogenesis, later becoming Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis, and finally Genetics and Epigenetics.
By 2000, Science Park had achieved a substantial foundation of support, a stable administration, and a significant investment in faculty and research support. Construction of a state-of-the-art, 26,000 square foot laboratory building (Lab 4) was completed in 2009. In 2014, the department grew to include additional laboratories in Houston. The campus and department employ over 200 people and are an integral part of both the larger Bastrop County and MD Anderson communities.