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   In medical school, Pauline Chen felt the lure of surgery, of using her  hands to fix something that was broken or diseased.

   When her grandfather was  diagnosed with liver cancer in the middle of her residency at Yale, Chen's career path was set. Today, Chen is a top surgeon and scientist at the Dumont-UCLA Liver Cancer Center. She uses her surgical  skills to transplant and resect the livers of patients with cancer and other abnormalities. And in the laboratory, she toils to uncover the secrets behind  liver cancer, why it's so deadly and why it still remains a mystery to researchers.

   Growing up in Boston, Chen became all too familiar with liver cancer. She almost  always knew someone in the Asian-American community who had it. But her grandfather's diagnosis gave the disease a personal dimension.

    "It really hit home," she said. "I found out there's nothing out there for these people other than surgery. Liver cancer is the worst kind of death sentence, and I want to change that."

    Chen's parents had immigrated to the United States from Taiwan. She is one of three children, all physicians or studying to become physicians.

    Youthful-looking — Chen says it's her curse — the energetic doctor and researcher is passionate about her profession. She wasn't always so single-minded about  medicine, however. Chen first set out to study aging cross-culturally as a medical anthropologist, but was drawn to surgery and later oncology while in medical school.

    "I really have a chance to impact someone's life," she explained. "Whether or not you can cure them, it's important to help them and their families go through the process of cancer, even if it's terminal."

   Chen attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and explored her interests in anthropology and laboratory research. At Northwestern Medical School, Chen  discovered surgery. She loved the immediate gratification.

   Chen completed a surgical oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute and  National Institutes of Health, where she worked in the laboratory with Steven A. Rosenberg. She came to UCLA in 1998, where she has been studying under Ronald W.  Busuttil, an internationally recognized transplant surgeon and head of UCLA's renowned liver-transplant program.

   She has performed hundreds of surgeries and will be among a team of elite scientists  conducting liver-cancer research as part of the new Dumont-UCLA Liver Cancer Center.

   "I want to come one step closer to having some answers for people with liver  cancer," she said. "We need a tool to understand the mechanism of it. Right now, we know very little."

   A veteran of two marathons and an aspiring fiction writer, Chen doesn't have much  time for her hobbies. But it's okay with her.

   "The great thing about being a doctor is that the patients give you a lot more than  you ever give them," Chen said. "They teach me so much, about life and death and about strength and courage. Never in a single lifetime could I have learned these things on my own."Copyright 2000 UC Regents
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