Championing Patients with Cancer

Kevin J. Cullen

Kevin J. Cullen, MD | University of Maryland School of Medicine

Everybody knows somebody whose life has been impacted by cancer. Each year researchers across the country work tirelessly to find new ways to prevent and cure this dreaded disease. In Maryland, one of those top researchers is Kevin J. Cullen, MD.

Cancer took both of Cullen’s parents from him early in his life. His mother died of lung cancer when he was in high school, and his father died of leukemia right after Cullen finished his degree at Harvard Medical School. Being so personally affected by cancer, he decided to study oncology and complete his residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.

Today, as a renowned oncologist who specializes in head and neck cancer, Cullen serves as director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) and as a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Cullen oversees all aspects of the cancer center, including a staff of 275 physicians and researchers, while also treating his own patients, roughly 20 per week. He manages an impressive $90 million in research funding that UMGCCC receives annually to fund a range of cutting-edge research, including the more than 230 clinical trials conducted by center oncologists each year. 

Under Cullen’s leadership, the cancer center was named a National Cancer Institute (NCI)–Designated Cancer Center in 2008 and then awarded the NCI’s highest designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2016. The recognition acknowledges UMGCCC’s high caliber of scientific leadership, resources, and the depth and breadth of its interdisciplinary research. 

In addition, UMGCCC was ranked No. 21 out of 900 cancer programs nationally in the 2016 U.S.News & World Report's "Best Hospitals" list.

Through such achievements, Cullen has helped cement the state of Maryland’s future as a hub of cancer research and treatment. “The NCI designation attracts top research and clinical talent and significantly enhances our ability to translate discoveries in the laboratory into better treatments for cancer patients in Maryland and beyond,” he says.

The key to success for UMGCCC, Cullen says, is having a talented and diverse staff that can provide comprehensive research and care. UMGCCC recruits outstanding basic scientists doing critical work in understanding tumor immunology, oncologists developing clinical trials, and population scientists studying how to prevent cancer and the disease’s effects on specific populations.

These impressive researchers also help to run UMGCCC’s robust training program that educates the next generation of life-changing clinicians and researchers. 

The Greenebaum Cancer Center is a bridge between research and clinical practice. UMGCCC’s clinical scientists work with more than 3,650 new patients annually, providing treatment, cancer screening and education services, and also have direct access to research laboratories for investigating cancer causes and treatments. The balance of patient care and innovative research gives UMGCCC physicians and researchers a solid foundation for their efforts. 

For Cullen, having access to researchers at the six professional schools and the Graduate School at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) adds to the interdisciplinary approach for solving problems related to cancer.

“It’s a very powerful mix of scientists from all disciplines,” Cullen says. “Any way that we want to attack a cancer problem, we have the experts on campus who can provide the knowledge base to do that. That can range from statisticians in the School of Medicine to experts in pharmacology in the School of Pharmacy.”

Cullen has achieved much national recognition for his work. Some highlights include his appointment by former President Barack Obama to a five-year term as a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, an advisory committee to the National Cancer Institute, and serving as chair of the American Cancer Society board.

He also was voted to The Washington Post Magazine's "Super Doctors 2011" for oncology and Baltimore magazine's "Top Docs" for hematology/oncology for 2010 and 2011. These high honors are only a snippet of the acknowledgment that Cullen has received for his work.

When Cullen is not at the UMGCCC championing cancer research, he enjoys spending time with his wife and 15-year-old son, biking, hiking, and skiing at their cabin in New Hampshire.

“I’m incredibly proud of what the cancer center has been able to achieve for the people that we serve and the citizens of Maryland,” Cullen says. “I’ve been so privileged to lead this team and to help the cancer center grow to national prominence over the last 12 years. I’m just so excited for what we will be able to accomplish in the future.”