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Tools of the trade

Massey Cancer Center’s new initiative gives promising trainees access to nation’s leading scientists

By Nan Johnson

When Judy and Harry Wason attended an MCV Foundation Discovery Series program in April 2014 at the invitation of Rebecca C. “Becky” Massey, Judy’s friend and longtime VCU Massey Cancer Center Advisory Board member and benefactor, Judy’s main motivation was to reconnect with Becky and to be supportive.

Harry wanted to attend for a different reason. The event gave attendees a chance to meet and talk with cancer specialists. The disease ran in his family, and he’d had prostate cancer many years before. He thought it wouldn’t hurt to learn more.

Not long after the Discovery Series event, during a colonos­copy Harry Wason had scheduled, radiologists saw something that concerned them. They suggested he get a second opinion. He headed straight to Massey Cancer Center, where it was confirmed that he had two malignant tumors in the back of his stomach. They were removed.

“Hopefully, that’s the end of that,” he says.

But that wasn’t the end of the Wasons’ appreciation for the care he received at Massey. The experience left such an impression with the couple that in March 2015, they contributed $100,000 to the center’s new Training and Education Program.

The initiative will help biomedical students and pre- and postdoctoral medical students prepare for leadership roles in cancer research and patient care. It will provide them with access to Massey’s state-of-the-art research facilities and resources, as well as opportunities to train with some of the nation’s leading scientists.

“The Training and Education Program will be a game-changer for students interested in pursuing biomedical research or health care as a profession,” says Devanand Sarkar, MBBS, Ph.D., Har­rison Foundation Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research, the co-leader of the Cancer Education Steering Committee and a member of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Cancer Molecular Genetics Program. “Judging by the number and quality of the applications we reviewed for this first set of pre- and postdoctoral positions, the program will serve as a crucial tool for cultivating the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.”

Sarkar and steering committee co-leader Joyce Lloyd, Ph.D., vice chair of education in the human and molecular genetics department of the VCU School of Medicine and a research pro­gram member at VCU Massey Cancer, were tasked with oversee­ing the program and reviewing applications for its launch.

Contributions to the initiative help support a portion of the stipends and tuition for four predoctoral positions and three postdoctoral positions per year. The first applicants were admit­ted to the program last fall.

“As a faculty member,” Sarkar says, “it is extremely gratifying to foster the hunger for answers and commitment to innovative care exhibited in these students. Philanthropic support will allow us to keep feeding that hunger.”

 

SETTING AN EXAMPLE

The Wasons’ gift will fund one predoctoral position for two years.

“Massey is on the cutting edge, and I thought I’d like to help someone in the future – maybe even me,” Harry says. “I thought this was a natural thing to do in my situation.”

The Wasons hope their gift is an example for others.

“We offer the challenge to inspire other people to join us in helping Massey find the answer and the cure for a disease that affects every family,” Judy says.

“Harry and Judy Wason’s extraordinary generosity is a huge boost to our training and education fund,” says Gordon Ginder, M.D., VCU Massey Cancer Center director and Lipman Chair in Oncology. “Ensuring there is a next generation of physicians and scientists who will continue the progress and advancements that have been made is essential to our long-term mission of eradicating suffering and death caused by cancer. I am grateful for this investment, and I believe it will inspire others.”

 

To learn more about VCU Massey Cancer Center, contact Cindy Zilch, chief development officer, at (804) 828-1452 or czilch@vcu.edu.