By:  Britanni Seynnaeve, MD

As a pediatric oncologist, I have responded to the question, “You take care of kids with cancer for a living- isn’t that difficult?” on countless occasions.  I understand that this question comes from a good place.   Articulating just the right answer to this question is difficult, as it is very important to ensure that my answer portrays what a privilege it is to have been given the opportunity to have this as my job. 

Cancer is unfair, and cancer in a child is a devastating diagnosis for the child and family. In my daily job, I get to meet amazing children who have been diagnosed with cancer.  While you might expect these children to feel bad for themselves, they do not.  Their undying optimism and need to explore the world around them goes on, even if their days are spent the oncology clinic or hospital while receiving treatment. I see their parents re-structure they lives to be able to have their child receive the best care possible, all while keeping a sense of normalcy for the family.  Every single time, every single patient that I meet- I am simply amazed by this.  My job is truly a privilege.    

While we have come a long way, able to give hope and chances at a cure to many more children now than 20 or 30 years ago, we still have a lot of room for improvement.  Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%  (PDQ).  While this is a success, the kids I take care of inspire me to research and study to improve this statistic to 100%.

I have a special interest in rare pediatric cancers, knowing that special attention is important to make scientific advances in the diagnosis and treatment of these under recognized diseases.  My research and interest is pediatric melanoma.  No, melanoma is not an adult-only disease.  Pediatric melanoma incidence, especially in the adolescent population, is increasing more rapidly than other cancers in the U.S.  Metastatic melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body occurs in a subset of these patients, however at this time we are not able to predict who will suffer from worse disease and who will ultimately die of the disease.  My research focuses on understanding genomic features associated with aggressive melanoma in children and adolescents, which can guide us in knowing how to tailor treatment at diagnosis and improve outcomes. 

I am thankful for my patients who inspire me daily and push me to be better.  However, without adequate funding, advancing our knowledge of pediatric melanoma through research would not be possible.  CureRock allows me to have extra funds available to be able to participate in scientific conferences, or purchase necessary research supplies.  Thank you to the contributors to CureRock for joining the fight to improve the field of pediatric cancer.   

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AuthorWhitney Lerch

By Danielle Bell, MD

I decided I was going to be doctor when I was about 8 yrs old. No, not just a doctor, I knew even then that I wanted to take care of kids with cancer.  When somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say, a pediatric oncologist…such a mouthful for a little girl to say. I had became fascinated and inspired after reading several stories about young children and teenagers battling cancer and I wanted to help, to make a difference. As my medical career unfolded, and I became even more exposed to the world of pediatrics and then pediatric oncology, I was even more convinced there was nothing else I would rather do.

Thankfully, so much progress has been made since I first started reading about pediatric cancer 25 years ago.  Diseases that were once incurable now have reasonable treatments and high rates of success. It amazes me how far we have come…but when I look around and see all my brave little patients, everyday I’m reminded about how far we still have to go. Looking a parent in the eyes and telling them there is no cure for their child is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.  One parent to hear those words is one parent too many.  I hope for the day that I never have to begin a conversation like that again.

The 5-year overall survival (OS) rate for children with hepatoblastoma is 70%.
— National Cancer Institute PDQ

This is why oncology research is so important, and why I’ve chosen to dedicate the last two years of my training to childhood cancer research. My current research project involves a type of childhood liver cancer called hepatoblastoma. This cancer is usually found in babies and young children and is treated aggressively with chemotherapy and surgery, sometimes even liver transplant. 

My research has identified an inflammatory protein (lipocalin 2) that is found in the majority of these liver tumors.  I am now growing these liver cancer cells and studying how this new protein might interact with other parts of the cancer signaling pathway that causes this type of cancer to grow.  My hope is that by studying this new protein, we may develop better drugs to treat this disease. 

CureRock has helped me by enabling me to buy important supplies needed for this research. I am thankful not only for my beautiful patients and their families who continue to inspire me every day, but also for the generous donors that contribute towards the fight to end childhood cancer.

For more information about research at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, contact Andrea Kunicky.


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AuthorJake Cooper

By The CureRock Committee

The first two CureRock-a-touille dinners were great successes.  We have another event planned for 2016 (all good ratatouille dishes need multiple layers, right?).  

The next event will be held in February 2016.  Keep checking CureRock.org and @CureRockPGH on Twitter for news and updates!  

Special thanks to Pittsburgh artist Krystal Duke for the great poster!


Posted
AuthorJake Cooper