Because the future for children with cancer rests on the doctors and researchers who are being trained today, CURE Childhood Cancer fully funds two pediatric oncology fellows at the Emory University School of Medicine each year. CURE believes it is crucial to have new teams of skilled researchers prepared to carry on the search for the cure.
Over the past few years, CURE has funded nine fellows, all of whom are now pediatric oncologists and are working at some of the top hospitals in the country.
This year, CURE is supporting two fellows, Dr. Jonathan Metts, and Dr. David Siegel, both of whom are working at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Both doctors developed a passion for medicine early on. For Dr. Metts, the interest is intensely personal.
“My father was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant in 1994 for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma,” said Dr. Metts.
“Because cancer touched my life directly at such a young age and because of the care he received, my goal was always to become an adult oncologist.”
But while working on his M.D. degree from the University of South Carolina in 2009, Dr. Metts became interested in pediatric oncology during his clinical rotations.
“I enjoyed learning the pathology of childhood cancer and getting to know the families of patients in our care,” he said, so he went on to complete his pediatric residency at University of South Florida following medical school. Prior to medical school, Dr. Metts attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, where he majored in Biology and obtained a minor in History.
For Dr. Siegel, medicine is in his genes. Both of his parents are physicians, and his mother works at a pediatric hospital.
“I started volunteering at pediatric hospitals when I was just in middle school,” said Dr. Siegel, who always knew he wanted to go into pediatric oncology.
Dr. Siegel attended and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis Missouri, where he majored in both Biology and Religious Studies and obtained a B.A. degree. He then was accepted at George Washington University for Medical School, where he received an M.A. and M.P.H. He then attended and completed his Pediatric Residency program at Emory University School of Medicine. During residency he worked and did his research under the mentorship of Dr. Ann Mertens at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Cancer Survivor Program on a study looking at renal late effects of cancer treatment. Dr. Mertens is also a CURE-funded researcher.
“My residency is where I really discovered hematology,” said Dr. Siegel, whose fellowship is focused on survivorship as well as the genetic causes of sickle cell and other blood disorders in pediatric patients. He also works with transfusion and bone marrow transplant (BMT) patients.
What drew him to the CURE fellowship and the Aflac Cancer Center?
“Not only is Aflac full of optimistic, genuinely nice people, but it’s really goal-driven and research-focused, with an emphasis on not only treating pediatric patients, but on doing the best to develop new and improved treatments as well as educate patients about the long-term effects of treatment,” said Dr. Siegel.
“Our treatments keep getting better and better, we’re learning more about the genetics of pediatric cancers every day, we’re improving our communication with survivors, we’re developing better technologies, and our treatments are getting more targeted, less toxic, and more effective. I couldn’t be more grateful to CURE for making my this experience possible and for funding all of the work we’re doing at Aflac,” he continued.
For Dr. Metts, it was the “exciting growth” taking place at Aflac, as well as the size of its clinical program and the number of research opportunities. Dr. Metts also has the honor of being the Sam Robb Fellow, in memory of a young man who lost his battle with osteosarcoma at age 20.
“I realize the special responsibility of this fellowship. I have met with the Robbs a few times over the last year and appreciate their welcoming spirit and their drive to continue to raise awareness in the fight against childhood cancer.”
Dr. Metts currently works in Dr. Kevin Bunting’s lab, where the team is working on learning more about the biology of leukemias and lymphomas, specifically Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
“We are studying the changes in the normal biologic processes in leukemic cells to further explain the changes that occur in leukemic cells to cause them to become malignant. Along the way, we hope to identify specific points in the biologic processes where new and innovative medications may help to slow down and/or stop the growth of leukemic cells,” he said.
Like Dr. Siegel, Dr. Metts believes the advances in the next five to ten years in pediatric cancer will come with improving the types of treatment while limiting its side effects.
“My hope is that we continue to increase cure rates while decreasing side effects of therapy. WIth our research, we will continue to identify new therapies and medications which will increase long term survival. None of this would be possible without support from CURE.”