Steven Allen, MD

Steven Allen, MD Center for Rare Disease Therapy
Pediatric Hematologist-Oncologist

Steven Allen, MD, never doubted he would pursue a career in medicine — he had a natural ability for biology and other sciences. He felt drawn to pediatrics after working during high school and college at child development centers run by his mother and aunt.

As an undergraduate student at Penn State University, Dr. Allen paired a major in biology with a minor in human development and family studies. He also landed consecutive summer internships with the Pediatric Oncology Education Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, his hometown. 

“It was perfect setup and an incredible experience,” says Dr. Allen. “Those internships pushed me onto the path of hematology oncology.”  

He spent three summers working in St. Jude’s pathology department, then spent his final summer doing clinical research alongside his faculty mentor, Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, who now heads St. Jude’s Global Research program. He helped Dr. Rodriguez-Galindo develop a research program and shadowed him at the clinic.

“I learned so much from him,” says Dr. Allen. “He epitomized what I want to be as a doctor. He is empathetic, caring, smart, and knowledgeable.”

After earning his medical degree at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, he completed a pediatric residency at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga followed by a pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

“The more I went into pediatrics, the more I realized how much I enjoyed the physician-patient-family bond. I wanted to have long-term relationships with my patients and their families,” says Dr. Allen.  

During his fellowship in St. Louis, Dr. Allen worked with a young patient with Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) — a rare disorder affecting children. When standard treatment didn’t work and testing showed it was caused by a mutation, he and other colleagues worked with drug companies to get medicine approved for compassionate use. The novel treatment worked, controlling the disorder and serving as a bridge until a transplant could be performed. 

“I was able to follow this patient through the transplant and afterwards. I realized this was what I wanted to do,” says Dr. Allen. 

Patients diagnosed with cancer of the blood or bone marrow normally are treated for a long time. It’s an opportunity to develop that long-term bond.

In August 2017, Dr. Allen joined UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as a hematologist-oncologist. He quickly found his niche with the Center for Rare Disease Therapy, specializing in patients with bone marrow failure syndromes and histiocytic disorders. 

“It’s rare to see patients with either of these disorders. Some cases are more complex than others,” he says.

Within a year of his arrival, Dr. Allen was serving as director of the UPMC Children’s Histiocytic Disorders Program. He also founded and is director of UPMC Children’s Pediatric Bone Marrow Failure Program.  

What excites him about working at the Center for Rare Disease Therapy is its ability to pull together researchers and clinicians from many disciplines to develop and test innovative therapies and care for children.

“These rare conditions can affect multiple systems beyond bone marrow — the heart, the lungs, and even the entire body,” says Dr. Allen. “It’s important to pull as many minds together as possible so we can figure out the best approach and provide the best care possible for these kids.”

Currently, most of Dr. Allen’s research is focused on working with various consortia to establish clinical trials to accelerate access to new and innovative treatment. This includes establishing national and international registries to share information on rare diseases.

“We will never learn enough about these rare diseases until we pull all this data together. Ultimately, our goal is to provide better care for patients.”