Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Stem Cell Pioneer Will Direct UM Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
Curt I. Civin, MD, a pioneer in cancer research who is known for developing a way to isolate stem cells from other blood cells, has joined the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Civin will become a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, as well as associate dean for research and the founding director of the new University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
Dr. Civin comes to the University of Maryland School of Medicine from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he has served as a faculty member since 1979. Dr. Civin currently leads projects totaling $21.5 million in extramural research funding. He will bring to the School of Medicine his entire research team, including 15 postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research technicians.
Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who appointed Dr. Civin to his positions, says, "With the recruitment of Dr. Civin and the founding of the new Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, the University of Maryland steps into a leadership position in the burgeoning field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine." Dr. Reece is also Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor of the School of Medicine.
"Research into stem cells and regenerative medicine will be a key frontier in medicine in the next two decades," Dean Reece says. "Adding Dr. Civin to our top-tier faculty and establishing the Center that he will direct will give us a tremendously influential position in the field of stem cell science."
Dr. Civin became well-known and earned the 1999 National Inventor of the Year Award for his groundbreaking scientific discovery in 1984 of a method for isolating stem cells from other blood cells, a critical step in studying them and for transplanting these cells into patients. Discoveries from his laboratory are used today in both clinical bone marrow stem-cell transplantation and leukemia diagnosis. Dr. Civin’s studies now focus on the genes expressed in stem cells. By understanding the inner mechanics of how stem cells work, he hopes to learn how to modify the key properties of stem cells in order to increase their therapeutic potential. In addition, his research includes learning how normal stem cells become cancerous.
"Dr. Civin is a nationally renowned physician-scientist who has made significant contributions both in terms of groundbreaking scientific research and the development of new treatments for patients," says Dean Reece. "He is the perfect fit to lead our new Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, where the dual goals are to advance scientific research and, ultimately, to apply those discoveries to patient care."
Dr. Civin envisions creation of a stem cell research initiative that will foster a broad range of interdisciplinary studies designed to understand and to directly affect human health and disease. Developing novel diagnostic methods, treatments and/or prevention for major human diseases can be a key, immediate part of each significant project.
His goals for the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and for the field of stem cell biology are twofold. The Center will explore how to manipulate stem cells to allow for much better transplantation and transfusion therapies. Its scientists also will work to understand how stem cells contribute to diseases in order to develop ways to improve conventional treatment and prevention of these disorders.
"Our dream for the new Center is to make a significant impact on curing disease," says Dr. Civin. "That’s really what biomedical research is all about — providing better diagnoses, treatments and preventions."
Partnerships with other researchers within the University of Maryland School of Medicine will be critical to achieving the goals of the scientists at the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Those scientists will include the School of Medicine researchers who already are studying stem cell biology. The School of Medicine’s stem cell research encompasses more than $2 million in extramural funding annually, including several grants from the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund.
"As I complete 30 years of wonderful experience at Johns Hopkins, I’m confident I will maintain my friendships and working relationships with colleagues there," says Dr. Civin. "I want this new Center and its work to have a global impact. To that end, I look forward to collaborating with colleagues at Johns Hopkins and at other prestigious Maryland institutions such as the National Cancer Institute and the rest of the National Institutes of Health, as well as other scientists around the globe."
The founding of the University of Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine comes at a potential turning point for the science of stem cell research. It is anticipated that President-Elect Barack Obama will repeal federal restrictions on stem cell research and open up NIH funding for the science. "We hope our new center will flourish under these anticipated less restrictive regulations for use of NIH funding in stem cell research," says Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, executive vice dean at the School of Medicine.
Dr. Civin agrees: "Repeal of the current funding restrictions not only will likely free up money for more stem cell projects. It also will allow researchers to spend more time concentrating on the science at hand, rather than concerning themselves with ensuring that projects funded by non-federal sources do not overlap with their currently restricted federal studies. It also will foster a global stem cell research community by removing boundaries between stem cell researchers in the U.S. and in countries where no such restrictions exist."
The quality of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s faculty was a draw for Dr. Civin as he pondered joining the school. "I was so impressed by the recruitments the School of Medicine has made in recent years, from Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-discoverer of HIV, and his team at the Institute of Human Virology, to Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett and her team at the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences," Dr. Civin says. "I was encouraged by how happy these people were, and by the collaborative culture the school maintains for all its faculty members. I’m looking forward to working with my new colleagues."
The Department of Pediatrics faculty, which Dr. Civin joins as a professor, is eagerly anticipating his arrival, according to Steven Czinn, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Hospital for Children at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"Dr. Civin will be a tremendous asset to our department," says Dr. Czinn. "We’re certain he will energize our research program and help us find new treatments for children who desperately need them."
Dr. Civin also will become part of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. The National Cancer Institute recently honored the Greenebaum Cancer Center with its distinguished designation — one of only 64 such centers nationally— recognizing the Center’s high quality research and research-related patient care. "Dr. Civin has helped lead the field of stem cell biology, and his discoveries have had a critical impact on approaches to cancer with his contributions to the practice of bone marrow transplantation," says Kevin J. Cullen, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Greenebaum Cancer Center.
"More recently, his work is providing essential insights into the role of stem cells not just in leukemia and hematologic malignancies, but throughout the emerging field of regenerative medicine," Dr. Cullen says.
In his administrative position as associate dean for research, Dr. Civin will assist Dr. Jarrell, executive vice dean, in managing the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Dr. Civin’s duties will include supporting the School of Medicine investigators and working to enhance the school’s research activities by promoting and managing a widely respected research enterprise.
"Dr. Civin will be a tremendous catalyst for creativity across the clinical and basic science departments, and core infrastructure," says Dr. Jarrell. "He is a proven leader and welcome collaborator who will enhance the University of Maryland’s already outstanding productivity."