Haydee Rochits-Cueto One of Five Research Grant Winners


Houston-based research student Haydee Rochits-Cueto, has been selected as one of five grant recipients nationwide through Northwestern Mutual’s Foundation sponsorship of aspiring cancer researchers through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s 2024 Pediatric Oncology Student Training (POST) Program.

As a recipient of this grant, Rochits has the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in immunotherapy research at the Center for Advanced Innate Cell Therapy of the Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Northwestern Mutual itself is a longtime partner of Texas Children’s Cancer Center and has been an integral sponsor since 2016.

In an interview with Houston Family Magazine, Rochits shared where her passion for cancer research came from and how she came to hear about the grant program.

“Since childhood, I have always wanted to become a scientist,” she said, and her love for research only grew in her time at medical school. “I have been solely watered by my dedication to substantial impact, particularly in the field of pediatric oncology.”

“When I was a medical student in my clinical practice, I witnessed the profound impact of pediatric cancer on the patients themselves and their families.”

A case that particularly impacted her while working with patients was that of a three year old with leukemia.

“I followed her progress and eventually watched her succumb to the disease,” she said. “It was devastating to see the pain she and her family experienced.”

“From that point, my motivation for a career in pediatric oncology grew stronger and stronger.”

Rochits explained that it is the human stories of struggle and survival that most motivate her in her research and her studies in this field. Her desire to help others and her dedication in her studies led her to encounter the POST Program through a professor while completing her masters degree.

The grant was specifically designed for those with a specialized interest in creating new designs for therapies to alleviate the effects of childhood cancer.

“I was taking a course in biomedical engineering as part of my master’s program,” she explained. She was particularly engaged by a lecture by Dr. Leidy Caraballo, who is affiliated with the Alex’s Lemonade Stand foundation.

Caraballo was associated with Dr. Andras Heczey, and Cueto approached both of them about joining their research team, which is when she found out about the program.

“From there, I submitted my application for consideration,” she said.

Five months later, she received news that she was one of five selected for the research grant.

”It was a validation of all the work I had put into my research and my studies,” she said, asserting that the recognition will not only further fuel her commitment to the field, but will also give her “a new motivation to move forward and continue making a significant contribution to oncology research.”

Rochits recently completed her master’s program at Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic, of which she is a native. She moved to Houston after getting married, as her husband, who is a doctor as well and a Dominican Republic native, was transferred there.

”There are many opportunities to continue doing research in Houston,” she stated, which was another reason for her moving, as those opportunities were not available in the Dominican Republic.

Rochits plans to complete a PhD after her research with the POST program, which will take place at Baylor College of Medicine, in Dr. Heczey’s lab, focusing on a new immunotherapy treatment for cancer.

“My goal is to keep collaborating with researchers and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in pediatric oncology,” Cueto said. “There are many people from other countries like me that are coming here to continue research.”

Speaking to children and families of children with cancer, Rochits shared a message of hope and strength.

“Continue fighting,” she said. “We are doing our best to contribute and make studies to provide better help. We are going to make this better for patients.”

Programs like this by Northwestern Mutual aim to empower the next generation of cancer researchers like Rochits.

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