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TFRI News | March 09, 2024

Honouring Dr. Connie Eaves: Stem Cell Pioneer

Dr. Connie Eaves leaves a lasting legacy as an international leader in stem cell research, bone marrow transplantation and treatments for leukemia and breast cancer. Her work has been integral in advancing our understanding of these cancers, and the research approaches she developed have become the gold standard used globally.

Sadly, her passing was announced yesterday in an email to the BC Cancer community from leadership at the Provincial Health Services Agency. Dr. Eaves was a distinguished scientist at BC Cancer’s Terry Fox Laboratory, which she co-founded with her husband Allen Eaves in 1981, and a professor in the Department of Medical Genetics and the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia. She was the second research scientist to be hired to the BC Cancer Institute and the longest serving, with over 50 years as an employee of BC Cancer Research.

“Connie was an exacting scientist who helped shape cancer research in Canada and beyond – as a researcher, a leader and a mentor,” says Dr. Christopher Paige, Chair of TFRI’s Board of Directors. “We were extremely fortunate for over 22 years to have her as a funded principal investigator of several Terry Fox Program Project Grants on leukemia research, an outstanding research program which continues to be renewed and recognized by international reviewers for its innovative work in the field.”

Dr. Eaves was involved in a total of 14 Terry Fox-funded projects dating back to 1998. 

A world authority on stem cells, she was a mentor to many and today she is being remembered by one former trainee for her inspiration. "There are countless scientists who inspire us with their presence, but only a select few leave a legacy so profound that their absence continues to inspire. Such is the impact of Connie,” remarked Dr. Nagarajan Kannan, director of the stem cell and cancer biology laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “I believe her name will resonate through the corridors of Canadian science and inspire generations to come.”

“This is very sad and unexpected news,” commented Darrell Fox, senior advisor, Terry Fox Research Institute and brother of Terry Fox. “Connie (and Allen) met Terry after the Marathon of Hope and the relationship has continued for 44 years strong. She was a wonderful person, and she will be missed.”

Connie spoke about Terry’s visit in a past interview with The Terry Fox Research Institute.

“We met Terry Fox when he and his brother did the first showing of the movie made of Terry’s run after he came back to Vancouver, at the old BC Cancer Research Centre. Terry could not watch the movie, he was so upset at the fact that he could not finish the run … he was in the research lab, hanging out. That’s where I went and had a chat with him,” said Dr. Eaves.

She continued: “It’s just phenomenal, just phenomenal, that a young man without any background in this area could have such insight into even wanting to find out how research is done … I’m still incredulous to this day.”

Connie and Allen Eaves also contributed to Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters, a collection of letters from celebrated Canadians, run organizers, supporters and cancer leaders paying tribute to Terry’s legacy.

Beyond the lab, Dr. Eaves was a passionate advocate for more women in science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM).

To recognize the significant impact of her work in cancer research, Dr. Eaves was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, appointed to the Order of Canada and elected into the Royal Society (London). She received a Till and McCulloch Lifetime Achievement Award and Gairdner Wightman Award, was recognized as a Status of Women Canada Pioneer by the Government of Canada and named a Chatelaine Woman of the Year in 2019.

TFRI is profoundly grateful for Dr. Eaves’ contributions to cancer research and the greater STEM community. Her passion, dedication to research and kindness have improved the lives of many. Our thoughts are with Connie’s family and many friends during this difficult time.

To hear Dr. Eaves speak about her work, please watch this 2019 video when she received the Gairdner Wightman Award. 

You can also listen to Connie share her story about meeting Terry Fox here.


Tributes to Dr. Eaves

“I am so grateful to Connie for her amazingly supportive mentoring. But, most importantly, I feel so fortunate to have known her; Connie was a scientist that embodied care and precision and a person that embodied generosity and kindness and warmth.”

Chris Maxwell, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia
Investigator, Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program, and Lead, Childhood Cancer and Blood Research group, BC Children's Hospital, Vancouver


"I had the pleasure of working with Connie for almost 20 years, first as a collaborator during my PhD, and then as a postdoc in her lab, and more recently as a collaborator on a grant. Connie was an amazing mentor – her clarity of thought and logic was inspirational, and she molded me into a scientist. Other than my own mother, no one has had such a big impact on my life as her. However, Connie was more than a mentor, she was also a friend, and someone who I will dearly miss."

John Stingl
Senior Principal Scientist
Stemcell Technologies, Vancouver


“Working with Connie was a privilege and a tremendous learning experience. Her scientific rigor and clarity were unparalleled. Connie was a trailblazer and transformed the field of stem cell biology with innovative methods and insights. She also put us on a new path to understanding the complexities of the breast and clonal heterogeneity. She will continue to inspire me.”

Rama Khokha, PhD
Senior Scientist
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto


“Connie was an extraordinary woman and an even more remarkable mentor. She always challenged me to think critically, ask questions, stand up for I believed in but also to show kindness and persevere with patience. Even after my PhD, she was available for a coffee or chat whenever I reached out, without hesitation. She was a lifelong mentor with her impact and influence being all over my life. I never imagined a world without Connie, I will look up to her always and miss her very much.”

Sneha Balani
Senior Digital Product Manager
STEMCELL Technologies, Vancouver


"Connie’s lifelong dedication to science and seemingly inexhaustible energy were an inspiration to many, particularly those of us lucky enough to have been her trainees. She was a titan in the field and her work helped to drive stem cell science to new frontiers and has, and will continue to, benefit the lives of patients. I and many others owe our scientific careers to her patient, nurturing and effective mentorship. Her legacy lives on in myself and her many other trainees, who help to carry the torch of her scientific curiosity onwards. Thank you, Connie, for everything you’ve done and taught us to do. You were the best scientific mentor anyone could ask for. We won’t let you down.”

Dr. David JHF Knapp
Assistant Professor, IRIC, Université de Montréal


“My life and scientific mind are forever shaped by having Connie as my PhD supervisor. She was a phenomenal mentor, always available to her trainees, and encouraging us to push beyond the boundaries of our knowledge. My most memorable moments with Connie were our 11 p.m. meetings in her office to discuss my experimental plans, rushing into her office to exclaim the experiment was a success and our heated lab meeting debates over concepts and data. She once told me that when choosing a mentor, you should choose someone who you want to learn how they think. To this day, I still consider what Connie would say in my day-to-day life as a clinician scientist. I hope to carry on her legacy through my research and embody all that she taught me about science and life. I miss you deeply, Connie.”

Dr. Long Nguyen
Clinician Scientist and Medical Oncologist
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto


“Connie held a special place in the hearts of many, and especially for those of us who were her trainees. She taught us how to ask questions, how to be rigorous and thorough, not only in our experiments, but also our writing. No-one has invested as much time and effort as Connie did during my PhD, a reflection of her unwavering commitment to always nurturing and preparing us for future challenges. I owe my career to her unwavering support and I will always honour her fierce commitment to advancing science. Connie’s teachings and spirit will always be a source of inspiration for me.”

Maisam Makarem
Thoracic Oncology Fellow
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston