Catherine Verfaillie was born in Ieper in 1957. She obtained an MD from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in 1982. After graduation, she trained in internal medicine and the treatment of malignant blood diseases such as leukemia. Verfaillie is best known for her work in the field of stem cell research.
In 1987, after her specialization in internal medicine, Verfaillie departed to the US to serve as a research fellow at the University of Minnesota. She worked in the lab of Phillip McGlave on topics including hematopoiesis and stromal control of hematopoietic stem cells, and subsequently on stem cells with greater differentiation potential, such as pluripotent stem cells. She became assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Medicine in 1991, and in 1998 became a full professor. In 1999, she started up and headed the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota.
She returned to Belgium in 2005 to become head of the KU Leuven Stem Cell Institute. Verfaillie has built up an extensive international research network in the stem cell field. She is the president of the Belgian Society of Stem Cell Research, and was president of the Society of Experimental Hematology. She serves as reviewer for numerous national and international granting agencies, as a member academic and industrial scientific advisory boards, and on the editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.
In 2003, Verfaillie received an honorary doctorate from KU Leuven for her fundamental contributions to stem cell research. She was awarded the José Carreras Award that same year and is the recipient of the Leukemia Society of America Award and the Damashek Prize from the American Society of Hematology.