In memory of Professor Boris Afanasyev (August 28, 1947 – March 16, 2020)
Sergey F. Bagnenko, Axel R. Zander, Gerard Wagemaker, Rudiger Hehlmann, Boris Fehse, Alexander D. Kulagin, Ludmila S. Zubarovskaya, Ivan S. Moiseev, Inna V. Markova, Alexei B. Chukhlovin
Accepted 27 March 2020
Pavlov University lost a charismatic leader who built in St. Petersburg an internationally visible center of excellence in leukemia research and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. We sadly inform our readers of the untimely death of the Editor-in-Chief of CTT. Professor Boris V. Afanasyev, Director of Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Research Institute of Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Transplantation at Pavlov First Saint Petersburg State Medical University, passed away on Monday, March 16, 2020. Over the last three decades he was the major inspirator for the development of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, as well as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy of malignant and non-malignant blood disorders in Russia. He was broadly known both in Russia and worldwide.
Boris V. Afanasyev graduated from Pavlov First Medical Institute in Leningrad with honors (1971). Till 1973, he was a resident at the Faculty Therapy (Internal Medicine). As a post-graduate student (1974-1976), he was one of the pioneers in basic hematopoietic stem cell research. His PhD Thesis (1977) was dedicated to growth regulation of normal and leukemic precursor cells observed in agar drop test system: Cloning of hematopoietic stem cells, studies of colony-forming ability of bone marrow and blood cells from healthy persons and patients with different neutropenic conditions. His most prominent studies of cultured stem cells included description of terminal differentiation of leukemic stem cells. Boris Afanasyev has also performed a number of pioneering works in stromal regulation of hematopoiesis by mesenchymal stem cells which proved to exert both stimulatory and modulatory effects upon granulocyte precursors that were performed by him in an original ‘agar drop-liquid culture’ system.
From 1976 to 1979, Prof. Boris V. Afanasyev headed the Department of Hematology at the Faculty of Internal Medicine. In 1982 based on the in vitro growth pattern of hematopoietic stem cells he was the first to describe myelodysplastic syndrome in children. His Habilitation Thesis (1983) was entitled: Granulomonocytopoiesis in acute leukemia and in blast crisis. He was one of the first to describe the cellular mechanisms of myeloid and lymphoid types of blast crisis in chronic myeloid leukemia. In 1985, he has published the well-known monograph Ancestral Human Hematopoietic Cells in co-authorship with Prof. V. A. Almazov. Over next 8 years, Boris Afanasyev was a Senior Research Associate at the Faculty of Internal Medicine in the First Leningrad Pavlov Medical Institute, studying biological mechanisms of malignant cells in acute and chronic leukemia, and in severe neutropenic conditions.
In 1986, Boris V. Afanasyev underwent clinical training at the famous Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle under supervision of Nobel Laureate, Professor Donnall Thomas. In 1987, Boris V. Afanasyev organized the first Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Department in the Soviet Union at the N. N. Petrov Research Institute of Oncology. In 1991 he performed the first pediatric allogeneic bone marrow transplantation in Russia.
In 2000 Prof. Boris V. Afanasyev organized the first university based BMT Department in Russia at the First St. Petersburg State I. Pavlov Medical University. In 2003, he established the Faculty of Hematology, Transfusiology and Transplantation for postgraduate education at the Pavlov University.
By 2007, based on the initiative of Prof. Boris V. Afanasyev and Pavlov University, with the support of Gorbachev Foundation and National Reserve Bank, the Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Research Institute of Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Transplantation was built and inaugurated in Pavlov University, which he since led as Founding Director of this Institute.
Over the last decade, his interests were focused on developing protocols for patients with relapsed and refractory malignant diseases. Under his supervision, novel protocols of bridging and posttransplant therapy with target agents and monoclonal antibodies were developed. He also was focused on long-term complications of BMT in children and adults and was one of the pioneers of reduced conditioning regimens in children that resulted in reduced long-term toxicity. The scientific heritage by Prof. Boris V. Afanasyev includes over 300 research papers and 6 monographs. This clinical research allowed to significantly expand the transplantation programs, which became the largest in Russia and are among the largest in Europe.
Since 1990, Prof. Afanasyev put effort into the development of unrelated bone marrow donor registry in Russia. These efforts in 2013 succeeded into the collaborative database which now helps recruiting about half of the unrelated donors in Russia. The governmental plan for expanding the database into a national unrelated bone marrow donor program has been approved, creating another legacy to Prof. Boris V. Afanasyev.
During the years that led to the success of BMT program organized by Prof. Afanasyev, he deeply acknowledged the support of his colleagues and friends from abroad: Rolf Neth, Klaus Winkler, Axel Zander, Nicolaus Kroeger, Boris Fehse (Hamburg, Germany), Thomas Buchner (Muenster, Germany), Dieter Hoelzer (Frankfurt, Germany), Hans-Jochem Kolb (Muenchen, Germany), Ruediger Hehlmann (Mannheim, Germany), Gerard Wagemaker (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Robert Gale (London, UK), Andrea Bacigalupo (Rome, Italy), Magne Børset (Trondheim, Norway), Arnon Nagler (Tel Aviv, Israel), Tapani Ruutu (Helsinki, Finland) and many others who facilitated the education of more than 70 Russian hematologists in the European centers.
Starting in 2007, the Annual Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Meetings at Pavlov University has become the central event to russian and the international leukemia community focused on education, collaboration, exchanging opinions and sharing novel research data, and on spreading excellence in the field of stem cell transplantation.
Prof. Afanasyev was a Member of the Editorial Boards in many Russian and international journals. As Editor-in-Chief, he played a key role in starting and developing the bilingual Cellular Therapy and Transplantation journal, in which Russian and international authors in oncology, hematology and related fields could present their research to the international community. We, his colleagues and friends, but also the whole community of hematologists and stem cell transplanters, will strongly miss his huge enthusiasm, creativity and friendliness.
Boris Afanasyev served life-long the general interest and passed away as he lived, completing a task of vital importance to the Institute, to the University, to hematology, and to the society. He was awarded the Clinical Achievement Award from the EBMT at the Lisbon meeting in 2018. Boris Afanasiev was elected to be honored with an ELN Keynote Lecture this year on the topic: "The Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Institute in St. Petersburg: Building a Center of Excellence in Russia" in recognition of his international visibility and esteem. He is survived by his wife Olga, daughter Anastasia and grandchildren Emil-Boris and Antonia.
Sergey F. Bagnenko,
Prof. Dr. Med., RAS Full Member, Rector, Pavlov University, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Axel R. Zander,
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c., University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany
Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Erasmus University, The Netherlands
Prof. Dr., Dr.h.c. Med. Fakultät Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Germany
Prof. Dr., Hamburg University, Germany
Alexander D. Kulagin, Prof. Dr.,
Ludmila S. Zubarovskaya, Prof. Dr.,
Ivan S. Moiseev, PhD, MD
Inna V. Markova, PhD
and Alexei B. Chukhlovin, Prof. Dr.
Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Research Institute of Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Transplantation, Pavlov University, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Accepted 27 March 2020