Wistar Institute

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The Wistar Institute
Wistar Institute-east.JPG
Established 1892
President and CEO Dario C. Altieri, M.D.[1]
Faculty 109[1]
Staff 325[1]
Budget $63,250,000 (2015)[1]
Location University City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Address 3601 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Website The Wistar Institute

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical science, with special expertise in cancer research, immunology, infectious disease and vaccine research. It is located in the University City section of Philadelphia, Pa. Founded in 1892 as America's first independent, nonprofit, biomedical research institute solely focused on biomedical research and training, Wistar aims to move research advances from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible.

Since 1972, Wistar been a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and holds the NCI's highest rating of "Exceptional" from approximately 1,500 cancer centers across the United States.

Known worldwide for vaccine development, some of the Institute's accomplishments are its contributions to the creation of vaccines for rubella (German measles), rotavirus and rabies.



The Wistar Institute Cancer Center’s pioneering work spans from studying genetics and the molecular and cellular events underlying how cancer develops, to the role of the microenvironment surrounding the tumor in how cancer spreads (metastasis), with the aim of making discoveries that could someday translate into advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Wistar maintains one of the largest U.S. labs outside of the NIH.

  • Identifying the genes associated with breast, lung, and prostate cancers.
  • Pioneering the science of monoclonal antibodies used to study the pathways and proteins involved in tumor development.
  • Improving cancer treatments and diagnostic tests for disease, including a recent blood test for lung cancer, currently in clinical trials.
  • Creating the first drugs against cancers caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Discovering the functions of BRCA1 by defining its key partner protein in the cell.
  • The Wistar Melanoma Cell Line repository is one of the largest in the world, with more than 500 cell lines.

Immunology and Vaccine Development[edit]

A global leader in vaccine development, the Wistar Institute’s half-century of achievement in vaccine development has saved countless lives in the U.S. and abroad. Discoveries at Wistar have led to the creation of vaccines that protect children and adults from widespread, debilitating and life-threatening diseases.

  • Wistar discoveries led to the creation of the rubella vaccine that is credited with eradicating “German measles” in the United States;[2] human rabies vaccines used worldwide; and a rotavirus vaccine approved in 2006 that prevents an illness responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide each year.
  • Wistar researchers are collaborating with leading scientists worldwide to develop vaccines for hepatitis C, malaria, and other potentially deadly diseases. Wistar is also working on a universal influenza vaccine that would be effective against all strains of influenza, including avian flu.
  • Wistar contributed technology critical to the development of the first vaccine for the Zika virus approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration to be tested in humans. Wistar is accelerating this novel DNA-based technology for other viruses besides Zika, including influenza, HIV, MERS, Ebola, and CHIKV, and also as combination therapies for prostate, ovarian, prostate, and other cancers.
  • Wistar scientists are developing new strategies for immunotherapy and collaborating with scientists locally and worldwide to develop a greater understanding of cases of natural resistance against infection.
  • Wistar is co-leading a consortium of 30 of the nation’s top HIV investigators which received a nearly $23 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2016 for HIV cure research. Partnering with government, non-profit and industry partners, this super team will test combinations of several novel immunotherapies under new preclinical research and in clinical trials.
  • Wistar immunologists are developing new therapies for autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Education and Training[edit]

Education and training the next generation of scientists are central to The Wistar Institute’s mission.

  • Educating area youth: Wistar offers internships, tours, and contests to area high school students to stimulate and nurture their interests in science. The Institute also offers a two-year training program for biomedical technicians in partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia.
  • Engaging the community: The Institute hosts community events including lectures by noted science authors that are designed to stimulate science learning and discussion.
  • Training the scientists of tomorrow: Over the past decade, nearly a thousand researchers, from predoctoral students to postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists, have trained at Wistar.


Isaac J. Wistar, 1852, San Francisco, California

The Wistar Institute was founded in 1892 as the nation’s first independent medical research facility.

It is named for Caspar Wistar, a prominent Philadelphia physician. Born in 1761, Wistar began his medical practice in 1787 and later wrote the first American anatomy textbook. To augment his medical lectures and illustrate comparative anatomy, Wistar began collecting dried, wax-injected, and preserved human specimens. Two years before his death in 1818, he gave the collection to William Edmonds Horner, another physician. Horner expanded the collection, which became known as the Wistar and Horner Museum, and was further expanded by its next curator, Joseph Leidy, M.D., who added animal specimens and fossil and anthropological samples. By the late 1880s, the collection was beginning to show signs of neglect and wear, compounded by a fire in Logan Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, where the museum was housed.

The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, c. 1900-1910

Wistar’s great-nephew Colonel Isaac Jones Wistar became involved in a fundraising campaign to refurbish and re-house the collection. Determined to preserve his great-uncle’s teaching collection and support new and original research of anatomy and biology, Isaac Jones Wistar funded an endowment and research building for The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology. Designed by Philadelphia architects George W. and William G. Hewitt, the original building is still part of the Wistar Institute’s research facility, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the historic University City area in Philadelphia.

Today, part of the human and animal skeletal collection is housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

A Wistar rat

In 1906, under Milton Greenman, M.D., and Henry Donaldson, Ph.D., the Institute developed and bred the Wistar rat, the first standardized laboratory animal. It is estimated that more than half of all laboratory rats today are descendants of the original Wistar rat line.[3][4]

Notable members[edit]

Current members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Official website of the Wistar Institute". The Wistar Institute. Retrieved 3 July 2009. 
  2. ^ "Rubella vaccines for the former USSR". Chemistry World News. The Royal Society of Chemistry. 17 January 2006. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  3. ^ *Clause, B. T. (1998). The Wistar Institute Archives: Rats (Not Mice) and History, Mendel Newsletter February, 1998.
  4. ^ "The Wistar Institute:History". The Wistar Institute. 2007. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°57′03″N 75°11′44″W / 39.95093°N 75.19549°W / 39.95093; -75.19549