TODAY

TODAY   |  April 17, 2014

Teen searches for cure of rare cancer she once faced

After surviving a rare cancer at a young age, 16-year-old Elena Simon decided to look for a permanent cure to the disease, working with healthcare experts and publishing eye-opening research. NBC’s Ann Curry reports.

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>>> now to the story of a remarkable teenager who survived a rare cancer. it's a fight that led her into the lab and a discovery that could one day lead to the secure. here's nbc's anne curry with the story.

>> reporter: little alana simon was 12 when she was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer .

>> it's carcinoma. that's how he diagnosed me.

>> the name just rolled off your tongue.

>> years of practice. five years, the chances of survival are actually pretty slim.

>> reporter: now, after surgery, doctors say her cancer is gone but in some ways it never fully left her.

>> it's a part of who i am.

>> reporter: at 16, alana began searching for a secure wicure with the help of her father sandy who is a bioresearcher. alana had an idea what if she looked at young people 's dna, normally cleaner than adults.

>> here we have the mutated protein highlighted in green.

>> reporter: after going through samples of 15 patients they found all shared the same mutation.

>> this is really a true possible root towards the treatment. and certainly a key root to diagnosis.

>> reporter: alana co-authored a paper with her findings published in the journal of science. an achievement that doesn't surprise her parents. could you have stopped her if you wanted?

>> you never want to. when she has her mind set to something, no stopping.

>> reporter: no stopping. and now harvard-bound aerial acrobat, soaring to new heights.

>> i want to just go and save people's lives.

>> reporter: anne curry , nbc news, new