University of Maryland School of Medicine
Associate Dean of Research, University of Maryland School of Medicine
Director, Center for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine
Leukemia is a great success story for cancer research — one in which Dr. Curt Civin played an important role. His early work on bone marrow stem cell transplantation was partially responsible for the dramatic increase of the five-year survival for all types of leukemia over the past 20 years.
Dr. Civin discovered CD34, the first – and still best – marker of hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells ever found. His subsequent isolation of CD34+ stem cells opened entirely new approaches to leukemia treatment. The CD34+ transplantation technology, created by a team of scientists in Dr. Civin’s laboratory, has been widely applied and thousands of patients’ lives have been saved because of this approach to treating cancer.
And now, for patients still suffering from certain leukemias that are difficult to treat and waiting for a cure, Dr. Civin’s current research may once again hold the key. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the deadliest form of leukemia, and Dr. Civin recently discovered that artemisinins – a class of drugs with low toxicity used to successfully treat malaria – are also effective in killing AML cancer cells. Through research, he identified ART-838, a specific artemisinin compound that shows remarkable preliminary effectiveness against leukemia cells and works well in combination with established anti-leukemia drugs. In addition, the compound can be given orally and stays active in the bloodstream for a long time. Plus, it doesn’t appear to harm normal bone marrow cells, so it may prove to be an effective new treatment for AML patients.
Years of NFCR support to Dr. Civin’s laboratory efforts have led to promising experimental therapeutic technology now being commercialized through the AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative. To learn more, click here.
Curt Civin, M.D., is the Associate Dean for Research and the Founding Director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Civin graduated from Amherst College in 1970 before attending Harvard Medical School and completing fellowships in pediatric oncology with the National Cancer Institute.
Prior to joining the University of Maryland’s faculty, Dr. Civin spent 30 years at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine leading research and clinical pediatric oncology.
In addition to holding 21 biomedical patents, Dr. Civin’s 1984 discovery of CD34 earned him the National Inventor of the Year Award in 1999.He has lectured around the world, published more than 250 articles and book chapters, received many awards, and served in leadership positions of multiple distinguished committees and editorial boards. Throughout his career, he has mentored a large number of talented scientists to pursue field-leading academic careers in translational research.
Areas of Focus
Years of NFCR Funding
1997 – Present
Efficiently Eliminating Metastasized Melanoma Cells
The prevalence of skin cancer is rising at an alarming rate, with melanoma being the deadliest. Melanoma is renowned for quickly spreading to other organs (or metastasizing), drastically decreasing the likelihood of survival. Being able to stop the spread of melanoma cells is essential to save the lives of many patients; however, no researcher has been able to solve the puzzle – until now. With long-term support from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), Dr. Daniel Haber and his team developed the CTC-iChip – a medical device to capture the few circulating tumor cells (CTCs) present in a standard blood sample from a patient. Circulating tumor cells are tumor cells that have become detached from the primary tumor and enter the blood circulation. While CTCs occur once in a billion cells and are extremely rare, they nevertheless may hold the key to metastasis—the stage responsible for most cancer deaths. Dr. Haber and his team developed methods to analyze the genes in CTCs, providing a liquid biopsy and an invaluable window into a patient’s cancer in real-time. Doctors may efficiently obtain critical information from their patient’s CTCs for life-saving treatment decisions in advanced cancer with the liquid biopsy. Though this significant breakthrough sparked excitement throughout the oncology world, Dr. Haber continued digging for more pieces to the puzzle. He honed in on the unique makeup of CTCs to understand what fueled the spread of these deadly cells and what inhibited it. Using samples from melanoma patients, the team found that the unique lipogenesis regulator (referred to as SREBP2) held an important role in combating the growth of CTCs. SREBP2 directly induces transcription of the iron carrier, which kicks off a chain reaction at a cellular level. This chain reaction causes resistance to ferroptosis inducers, a type of programmed cell death. The ability to manufacture these chain reactions within CTCs opens up a realm of therapeutic opportunities for patients with metastatic melanoma. While this discovery is highly significant in the war on cancer, it is only just the beginning of understanding how to reduce melanoma metastasis. Dr. Haber remains committed to solving more pieces of the puzzle. To support the work of Dr. Haber and other world-renowned researchers, please make a gift today. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: New Drug Makes Unresectable or Metastatic Ocular Cancer Treatable Catching Cancer Cells on Their Way to Spreading Detecting Skin Cancer with Artificial Intelligence and Other Game-Changing Technologies in Cancer Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive NFCR’s monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign up here.