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.

AuthorJake Cooper