Stopping liver cancer in kids

Erin MarcotteHepatoblastoma (HB) is a rare liver tumor that develops in utero and occurs most commonly in children under five years of age. Compared to other childhood cancers, the survival rate for HB is very poor and kids who do survive experience lifelong effects from treatment.

Erin Marcotte, Ph.D., part of the U’s pediatrics faculty and recipient of Masonic pilot support, wants to give children every chance to beat HB.

“Kids deserve to enjoy the innocence of childhood without pain and suffering,” says Marcotte. “If my work eases or prevents the suffering of even one child, I will feel that my career has been successful.”

With funding from the Masons, Marcotte and her colleagues have launched a study exploring whether deficiencies in choline—a nutrient critical for fetal development and healthy liver function—contribute to the development of HB.

Her team has obtained DNA samples from hundreds of children with and without HB and their mothers and is now studying the role of choline metabolism genes. If results from this work are promising, their eventual goal is to launch a clinical trial to see if choline supplementation can reduce HB risk.  

“Without funds from Minnesota Masonic Charities, we would not be able to do this important work. Having their support to get this work off the ground has been a huge step forward and will likely lead to future funding for continued research.”