Trailblazing lymphoma researcher Kristy Richards ’90 dies

Dr. Kristy Richards ’90, a groundbreaking cancer researcher and associate professor of biomedical sciences, died on March 30 in New York City. She was 50.

Kristy Richards

Richards was known for her trailblazing interdisciplinary work treating cancer in dogs in hopes of discovering a therapy for humans. An oncologist who studied lymphoma, a cancer shared by humans and dogs, her cutting-edge work recruited pet canine lymphoma patients to test potential treatments. In collaboration with colleagues at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, she worked to apply insights gained to human lymphoma patients. Her research included immunotherapy approaches, which employ the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells.

“In addition to her many scientific and career accomplishments, Kristy had unbounded energy and an infectious passion for discovery,” said Lorin Warnick, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “She was a wonderful citizen of the college and university. She was always willing to provide a supportive voice for our initiatives, and took great pride in the empowerment of others. Kristy’s passing is a tremendous loss to us personally and to the research field she pushed forward with great determination.”

Richards received her B.S. in biology (magna cum laude) from Cornell before attending Stanford University, where she earned a doctorate in 1997 and an M.D. in 2001. She did an internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston from 2001 to 2003, and completed a medical oncology fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, from 2003-07.

In 2007, she joined the faculty of the Department of Medicine at the University of North Carolina. She was hired in 2015 as an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She held dual appointments at Cornell’s Ithaca campus and in the Division of Hematology/Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine.

In addition to her comparative cancer research, Richards provided clinical care as an oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. She was also chair of the Cornell Veterinary Biobank’s governance committee;the Cornell Veterinary Biobank collects, processes, and stores biological samples from participating patients that are made available to researchers worldwide. 

“Kristy was a compassionate oncologist, a brilliant researcher and an outstanding mentor,” said Marta Castelhano, director of the Cornell Veterinary Biobank. “Above all, she was an authentic human being who passionately cared to help others reach new heights, through her unique gift of radical collaboration. Her greatest legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of the many people she empowered, including my own.”

Richards, a faculty fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, was an author on nearly 60 original research publications. She served as a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society board member, North Carolina chapter, from 2010-2015, and until her death was on the Cancer and Leukemia Group B/Alliance for Clinical Oncology Trials Pharmacogenomics and Population’s Pharmacology Committee (since 2011) and Lymphoma Committee (since 2008).

She was also an active member of the American Society of Hematology and the American Association for Cancer Research. She served as a Progressive Assessment of Therapeutics program co-leader, and an academic editor for PLoS One and PeerJ.

Richards is survived by her parents, a sister and a brother. Memorial events are being planned.

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Lindsey Knewstub