Dr. Civin (far R) with his team at the University of MD in 2023.

In discussing the CCF mission, we focus on the importance of funding early research of young investigators, helping them advance in a consistently underfunded specialty. At the same time, CCF recognizes the value of supporting those who have been changing the field of pediatric cancer for decades. One recent awardee has received CCF’s support at both points in his career: Curt I. Civin, M.D., Sc.D. (honorary), Founding Director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine. CCF awarded grants to Dr. Civin in 2022 and 2023 for his lab’s latest work toward developing new treatments for acute myeloid leukemia (AML,) acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and infant leukemias. Dr. Civin was also an early recipient of CCF funds, having met founder Shirley Howard while he was a young assistant professor at Johns Hopkins, and received one of the earliest grants from CCF for $10,000 in 1984. Dr. Civin’s dedication for the past forty years, ensuring that better treatments become available for the youngest cancer patients, is evident in everything he does.

Early Years

After completing medical school and residency in Boston, Dr. Civin completed Pediatric Oncology-Hematology clinical and postdoctoral tumor immunology research training at the NCI from 1976-1979. In 1979, Dr. Civin began his academic career and launched his independent research on normal and malignant stem cells at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, now the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Civin progressed from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and then Professor of Oncology and Pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as he cared for children with cancer, performed trailblazing research, and built an eminent Division of Pediatric Oncology. At Hopkins, Dr. Civin held both the King Fahd Chair in Pediatric Oncology and the Samuelson Chair in Cancer Research.

Breakthroughs

With early funding from CCF and others, Civin became a pioneer in stem cell and cancer research. He quickly became known internationally for developing a technology to isolate hematopoietic stem-progenitor cells from other blood cells. He has received wide recognition for his groundbreaking 1984 discovery of CD34, which has had a major impact in research and clinical applications, as well as for his mentoring of scientist and physician trainees who have become world-renowned leaders in the field. Indeed, Dr. Civin’s breakthrough discovery of the CD34 lympho-hematopoietic stem cell antigen and monoclonal antibody (Civin et al., J. Immunology 1984) accelerated basic research in stem cell and leukemia biology and improved stem cell transplantation for thousands of patients.

Through his laboratory research, Dr. Civin accomplished the rare feat of making enduringly important discoveries that not only opened entirely new directions and continue to empower stem cell, leukemia, and transplantation research, but that are also implemented daily in practical, clinical use. His discoveries around CD34 led to multiple honors, including the 1999 National Inventor of the Year Award and the 2009 Landsteiner Award (Civin et al., Transfusion 2010).

Dr. Civin (front, far L) and his team in 2009 after launching the Center at UMD.

After 30 years at Hopkins, Dr. Civin moved across town to the University of Maryland School of Medicine where he founded UM’s Center for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine in 2009. In 2015, Civin was honored with the American Society of Hematology’s prestigious Mentor Award.

Reconnecting with CCF

Dr. Civin joined CCF in 2021 at our Research Symposium as a panelist on the impact of CCF early funding. He noted that uniting the community is a true testament to CCF’s longevity and vital role in the local pediatric oncology community.  Civin confirmed that our area is ripe for exchange, collaboration, and partnership.

Today, Dr. Civin continues with an active lab focused on research, partially funded through a CCF grant, to continue his commitment to identifying better treatments for AML, ALL and infant leukemias. Like several other childhood cancers, AML continues to be treated largely the same way it was nearly 40 years ago. The survival rate of AML is somewhat better today than it was in the early 1980’s, likely due to enhanced supportive clinical care, but Dr. Civin is committed to improving the odds.

As Dr. Civin explained to me when we spoke in mid-January, most pediatric cancers are not detectable in advance, overtly inherited or a usual outcome of environment or geography. Instead, most pediatric cancers are the result of mutations that occur spontaneously as errors in necessary replication of our DNA during the growth, development and sustenance of our tissues and organs. He also shared stories of recent fortuitous meetings in Maryland with adults that he treated as pediatric cancer patients some 40 years ago. The beautiful families and wonderful careers built by these individuals, including some cured through Dr. Civin’s own research studies, are extraordinary rewards that mean so much to him.

Local Partnership

After speaking with Dr. Civin, I was reminded how much ‘local’ means to so many. CCF continues to support local researchers at all the local hospitals with pediatric oncology departments. Funding local researchers- both new and experienced – is what remains a priority for CCF because over 15,000 children in the U.S. will learn they have cancer this year. Until cancer treatment is safe, simple, and guaranteed, as well as affordable for all, we have work to do.

Partnering with Dr. Civin is one just one way CCF ensures that critical dollars are invested wisely.

With appreciation,

 

 

Tasha Museles

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