RICHMOND, Virginia-- Tay Jones is like most 10-year-old girls. She likes coloring and drawing. The talented artist also dreams of becoming a YouTube star when she grows up. She'll use her platform to give a voice for the homeless. "Help them get homes and have food," Tay describes.
From her room at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Tay's had a lot of time to think about her future. She's spent about 120 days in her hospital bed since November 2015.
She has family by her side, like Mary McCaskill, her grandma. "As if one cancer wasn't bad enough, she had two forms of cancer," McCaskill explains.
Tay was diagnosed with a rare leukemia called AML, combined with CM-7, a genetic mutation predisposing her to blood cancer. Tay is an especially high-risk patient.
But just down the hall from Tay's room is a unique lab. It's filled with zebrafish, no bigger than an inch long. But the little fish could offer some big answers.
"They're very close to humans," researchers explain. Doctor Seth Corey brought his lab to VCU in 2015. "This research is happened right here, and it's going to make a huge difference for kids like Tay and lots of others."
The genetic make-up of zebrafish is 90% similar to humans. Doctor Corey and his team have been able to manipulate the genes to mimic children with conditions, like Tay's, leading to bone failure.
Dr. Corey says his goal is "to be able to identify what that other second or third genetic change is." That will lead to screenings, to give kids with the mutation a bone marrow transplant. More therapies to treat diseases that are already there, are also on the horizon.
But progress is slow. So a major find probably won't happen during Tay's treatment. The lab is one of only about a dozen in the country studying leukemia. It's hoping to offer hope to families and patients dealing with pediatric cancer, the number one killer of children in America.
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, nearly 16,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S.