NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Manhattan teenager is being honored for her groundbreaking cancer research.

Some scientists have spent their entire careers trying to decode cancer, but 18-year-old Elana Simon achieved a major breakthrough while still in high school.

The Dalton High School graduate was diagnosed with a rare pediatric liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma when she was 12.

“It’s terrifying, it’s sad, it’s scary,” she told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “I was lucky enough that they caught it early enough that surgery was a viable option.”

So what made her develop this rare cancer? Simon wanted answers.

“I started the study actually in partnership with my surgeon and some people from the New York Genome Center and I was able to get lab space in my father’s lab,” she said.

The mountains of data at first made it seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. But then she used sophisticated computer programs to help compare DNA sequences.

“We actually looked at the tumor samples from patients and also healthy liver samples from patients and I compared the two of them and ended up finding this one key mutation that’s been found in every single patient we’ve looked at that is causing this cancer,” she said.

What had been discovered was a new kind of oncogene, a gene that can cause cancer.

“Now that we know what’s causing it, we started working on a diagnostic test that you can test patient’s blood samples and hopefully try to diagnose some of the cancers through just looking through their blood instead of doing a biopsy,” Simon said.

For her research, Simon, now a Harvard University freshman, was awarded $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute For Talent Development.

Back in May, Simon also got the chance to meet President Barack Obama when she showcased her research during the White House Science Fair.

She hopes other young people are inspired by her story.

“Don’t be afraid to try something just because you think you’re too young,” she said.

For more information on Simon, click here.

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