Supporting Research, Innovation, and Education in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

The Portes Foundation Story

The Portes Foundation’s proud history dates back over seventy-five years. The Foundation began as the Chicago Breast Cancer Detection Center. In 1946 the Center was formally incorporated as the Cancer Detection Center of Chicago, a true pioneer in its field. Dr. Cesar Portes was its first head. Funding came from several sources, including the Portes Family (drug store owners on the West Side of Chicago) and Mrs. Alice Senn.*

Approximately twenty years later the Center built its own building on West Huron Street, complete with the latest in imaging and other equipment enabling it to serve both individuals and corporate groups. The Center had a staff including a full time medical director. Its principal activity was giving comprehensive physical examinations first with a focus on the earliest possible detection of incipient cancer and later on other health-related areas as well. The Center, never offered treatment, but provided appropriate medical referrals where required.

Ironically, the very success of the Foundation led to its decline by the mid 1980’s. When Portes began, screening was virtually non-existent. Over a fairly brief time, screening became widely accepted and increasingly widely available, not only in hospitals, but also a bit later in group practices, HMO’s and PPO’s.

As a result, the need for a free-standing screening center diminished, and the center ceased operations in 1989, leaving the Board with the challenge of defining a new mission. In accordance with this new mission the Portes Foundation awards “seed-money” grants (which are difficult to obtain) for projects in many areas of human wellness. The Huron St. property was sold and an endowment fund was created.

We award grants for medical research and education, including patient education, in the areas of health maintenance and disease prevention. In particular, the focus is on enabling investigators to launch new and promising lines of research focused on these areas including the impact on patients and families.

The Board then set out to define areas of interest and to publicize the availability of grants. Realizing that, as a primarily lay board, evaluating scientific proposals was beyond its competence, the Board asked the Institute of Medicine of Chicago (IOMC) to provide medical and administrative consultative help, thereby forging a partnership which continues today. A Portes Foundation committee of the IOMC, was created and chaired by the Chairman of the Portes Board at the time, Dr. Leslie Sandlow, a physician, researcher and leader recognized world-wide in continuing medical education to evaluate grant requests.  Despite the passing of Dr. Sandlow in July of 2021, the committee continues its work today and looks forward to continuing the work of the Portes Foundation in supporting research, innovation, and education in health promotion and disease prevention.

The IOMC has expressed itself as “very pleased” to be able to facilitate Portes’ function. From the Foundation’s point of view, IOMC helps to assure quality, dispassionate evaluation and smooth oversight. Today, The Foundation is able to devote substantially all of its annual revenue to grant making, and incurs no costs whatever for facilities or staff. To date, we are very proud of having awarded grants totaling more than $1,400,000.

*Mrs. Senn’s father-in-law was Dr. Nicholas Senn for whom the Chicago high school is named. Dr. Senn was U.S. Surgeon General during the Spanish-American War.

Leslie J. Sandlow MD
Leslie J. Sandlow, MD (1934-2021)

The Portes Foundation Board of Directors mourns the recent passing of our long serving chairman, Dr. Leslie J. Sandlow, and remains committed to our mission in support of projects that promote medical research, education, and clinical programs in the areas of health maintenance and disease prevention.