Champlin Earns Transplant Society's Lifetime Achievement Award

MD Anderson physician honored for impact on blood, marrow transplantation

MD Anderson News Release 02/21/11

The American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation has honored leader, innovator and educator Richard Champlin, M.D., with its Lifetime Achievement Award during the group's annual meeting Feb. 17-21.

The award recognizes Champlin, head of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Biology, for his career-long work developing and improving blood stem cell transplantation as cancer therapy.

"Dr. Champlin is a productive and highly accomplished investigator who is an international leader in blood and marrow transplantation," said A. John Barrett, M.D., ASBMT president. "His work has set clinical standards for the field in the United States and beyond.  He's an inspirational mentor to trainees and faculty who will carry his teachings forward."

Blood stem cell transplants, or bone marrow transplants, restore blood production and the immune system after cancer patients receive intensive chemotherapy. Transplants are most commonly used against blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. Produced in the bone marrow, blood stem cells differentiate into platelets, red blood cells and the immune system's white blood cells. Patients receive either their own banked cells or ones from a matched donor.

"Dick Champlin is a pioneer of stem cell transplantation and one of the best translational researchers in the field," said Waun Ki Hong, M.D., head of MD Anderson's Division of Cancer Medicine. "He's a highly effective leader of MD Anderson's transplant and cellular therapy program. The lifetime achievement award is richly deserved recognition for his outstanding leadership and contributions in the field."

Since Champlin arrived in 1990 to lead MD Anderson's program, it has grown to become the world's largest and most productive, performing 800 transplants a year.  

"I am greatly honored to receive this prestigious award," Champlin said. "There has been enormous progress in the field of blood and marrow transplantation. It is very satisfying to have played a part in the clinical research that has so greatly advanced the standards of care."

Safer transplants become standard of care

A pioneer in the use of donor stem cell transplants for blood cancers, Champlin was one of the first to recognize that the new blood from the donor actually attacks remaining leukemia or lymphoma cells in the recipient.  

By studying this graft-vs.-cancer effect, Champlin found that the extremely high doses of chemotherapy given to kill a patient's disease before transplant were unnecessary.

"We used to give almost life-threatening doses of chemotherapy to treat disease," Champlin said. "Now we can use lower doses and then rely on the donor's stem cells to kill remaining cancer and cure disease."

Donor transplants now are offered to patients previously ineligible because of the high-dose chemotherapy's toxicity, Barrett noted.

"Dr. Champlin's strategy resulted in a paradigm shift in clinical transplant medicine by dramatically reducing the mortality rates of young and older donor transplant recipients. This approach has become the standard of care for these transplant recipients worldwide," he said. Barrett is section chief of Stem Cell Transplantation at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Hematology Branch.

Older patients are most likely to have leukemia or lymphoma. "Now we can go to age 75," Champlin said. "It used to be restricted to young adults and children, now almost everyone can tolerate a transplant. If we find a good donor match for them, they may be cured."

Champlin wins praise as an enthusiastic teacher and mentor. He has trained hundreds of young transplant investigators from around the world, many of whom now lead other prominent transplant programs.

Champlin was the founding president of the ASBMT and served as chair of the Center for International Bone Marrow Transplant Research.  He is a prolific author of more than 700 scientific and clinical papers.

He also served as vice president of the Foundation for the Accreditation of Hematopoietic Therapy (FACT) for more than a decade. In that role, he was instrumental in developing standards, as well as an accreditation program, that have been widely adopted by the national and international transplant communities. Champlin served as the President of the Council for Donor Collections and Transplant Centers for the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).

He is a member of the Advisory Committee for Cord Blood and Stem Cell Transplantation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.