A Conversation with Dr. Corey

    About once a month, I sit down with the doctor who is leading the pediatric cancer research work that you are helping to make possible. Every day with your support, Dr. Seth Corey and his team seek more effective, less toxic treatments for childhood cancer. In the process, they’re helping to shape Richmond into one of the top pediatric cancer research centers in the country.
     Connor’s Heroes wrapped up 2016 with a $100,000 donation to support Dr. Corey’s work at VCU Massey Cancer Center, and that donation is just the beginning. We’re committed to helping Dr. Corey and his team lead the way in treating and curing pediatric cancer. 
     To kick-off the new year, I’d like to re-introduce you to Dr. Corey and share parts of recent conversations regarding “our” amazing work. (Dr. Corey’s bio, along with background on the fund that helped bring him here, appears at the end of this article.) — Lisa Goodwin, Co-founder, Managing Director, Connor’s Heroes

Lisa: Dr. Corey, who is passionate about his work, explains why this work is so important to all of us. 
Dr. Corey: You’ve heard me say this before: the children we're treating can't afford to wait years for a breakthrough. Their families are impatient, and I'm impatient, too. From bench to bedside, I see research having a real impact on these children and their families. We need to push it as far as we can, every day.
    Here’s a great example. A decade ago, children treated for acute promyelocytic leukemia experienced typical reactions such as long hospitalizations, fevers, mouth sores, hair loss, nausea, and vomiting. More recently, research has introduced new drugs that produce fewer side effects, but are more effective and can be done as an out-patient!
   That’s only part of the solution. After being cured of cancer, a child may grow up with long-term side effects and a lifetime of health problems, such as learning disabilities, organ damage, or infertility problems. That’s still today’s reality and it’s not acceptable. 

Lisa: My friend Katie Tyson, whose seven-year-old son will wrap up three years of treatment in June, puts it perfectly: “Children need to do more than just live through treatment. We want to give them 70, 80, 90 years of quality life. We need to study kids!” Dr. Corey agrees.
Dr. Corey: We're working to bring new therapies and cutting-edge diagnostics to the children and adolescents of Virginia. And, we need to help kids today. Some of our work has a “short runway;” others have a longer one. The work that can produce more immediate results includes:

  • Personalized medicine.  This approach uses genetic information of the specific cancer to tailor treatments that are less toxic to the individual.
  • Drug Repurposing.  There are drugs that already exist and approved for use in non-cancer conditions. By using a drug already approved by the FDA, we know it will have minimal side-effects. Also, we need much less financial support to generate the evidence that it will work and can get a clinical trial started in months, not years. 

     The longer-term research includes our unique work with zebrafish. We have tanks of zebrafish, which lay hundreds of eggs at a time and develop in days. Some of the cancer-related gene sequences are 90 percent similar to humans. We use the fish to model pediatric leukemia and identify which genes contribute to leukemia. By identifying those genes, we can develop early detection tests and intervene more successfully. 

Lisa: Dr. Corey’s vision is that Richmond gains a national reputation for cutting-edge pediatric cancer research.
Dr. Corey: The unique research we’re doing in Richmond will help kids here and all over the world. Research is about finding solutions, sharing them, and building on them. We have the facility. We just need to continue to build the funding to attract additional researchers. Connor’s Heroes is critical for us to bring cutting edge research here. We’re grateful for your incredible support. 

     Dr. Corey, Chief of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation and Program Co-leader in Cancer Molecular Genetics at VCU Massey Cancer Center, was recruited to Richmond from Northwestern University School of Medicine, where he held the endowed chair in pediatric cancer biology and chemotherapy. His credentials also include chief of pediatric leukemia and lymphoma at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He is an NIH-funded scientist in blood disease for almost three decades. 
     In 2007, Connor’s Heroes, through the support of our donors, created an endowment fund and established the Connor's Heroes Pediatric Cancer Research Fund, which led to the hiring of Dr. Seth Corey in 2015 to head up the work. Connor's Heroes also supports the Jamie Hess Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Research Fund. These are the only funds in Virginia that are directly supporting the research efforts of Dr. Corey and his team of scientists at VCU Massey Cancer Center.