Dr. Kristy Richards (1968-2019) was a trailblazing lymphoma researcher and exceptional oncologist, who approached cancer research from an interesting angle — dogs. Her field was comparative oncology, where she sought to bridge the gap between canine and human research. Richards’ research focused on lymphoma, which is a common cancer type in humans and the most common cancer type in dogs. Sadly, we lost Kristy to breast cancer in 2019.
Richards worked with canine lymphoma patients (pets, not research animals) and matched them with veterinary clinical trials. “Veterinary trials are an untapped resource – we have a really powerful tool to advance these therapies much more rapidly and efficiently – plus, we can find cures for both dogs and humans at the same time.” (Richards, 2016). For the most common type of lymphoma, about 1/3 of patients are not cured by standard chemotherapy and need a secondary treatment option. Dogs are not usually cured by standard chemotherapy, so they are great candidates for trials of treatments like immunotherapy, which can provide data that further supports the use of these drugs in humans. Innovative efforts like these to use dogs as a better preclinical model for humans can reduce the cost of drug development and increase the chance of success of a drug in human trials. Richards also studied the genetics of lymphoma, comparing and contrasting the genetic alterations seen in humans and canines. Her M.D. colleagues may have given her funny looks when she shared that she was working with dogs, but she was committed “longer, happier lives for both human and canine patients” (Weill Cornell Medicine, 2018), which we all can appreciate as an admirable goal (https://meyercancer.weill.cornell.edu/news/2017-05-19/immunotherapy-improving-odds).
Richards earned her B.S. from Cornell University and M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University (under renowned geneticist David Botstein). She did her internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and completed her hematology/oncology fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In 2007, she joined the faculty at University of North Carolina in the Hematology and Oncology, and Genetics departments. In 2015, Richards moved to Cornell to serve as the director of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s comparative cancer program and associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine. Kristy was named one of Cornell’s “Mind-Blowing Faculty” in Cornell’s Ezra Magazine.
Kristy was also a strong advocate for NIH funding on Capitol Hill. She was invited to speak at the Biden Cancer Summit in 2018, where she shared her perspective as a researcher and her personal experience with breast cancer (https://archive.bidencancer.org/biden-cancer-summit-kristy-richards/). The scientific community was deeply saddened to hear of her passing in 2019, as noted in the stories by her colleagues at UNC and Cornell, who remember her scientific excellence as well as her optimism, determination, and passion for discovery (https://unclineberger.org/news/remembering-kristy-richards-phd-md/ ; https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/04/trailblazing-lymphoma-researcher-kristy-richards-90-dies).
Dr. Kristy Richards’s Twitter: @Kristy_Richards
Article written by Andrea Moffitt
Note from Andrea: Kristy Richards was an inspiring role model to me. She served on my thesis committee, and was a wonderful resource and advocate for me both during graduate school and during my search for a postdoc position. I hope to emulate her passion for research and collaborative and interdisciplinary approach. In her words, “what happens when engineers, biologists, pathologists each look at the same issue? By comparing different viewpoints, you learn a lot.”