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Research Fellowship Program

The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation Research Fellowship Program is aimed at supporting early career researchers focusing on studies in cholangiocarcinoma. The goal is to raise awareness about cholangiocarcinoma and inspire innovative, quality research.

2019 Research Fellowship Awards

2019 Andrea Marie Fuquay Award

Supported by the Daniel Fuquay family in honor of Andrea Marie Fuquay

Immunosuppressive Myeloid Cells Facilitate Tumor Progression in cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Emilien Loueuillard PhD, Mayo Clinic

Amount: $50,000

"This proposal uses unique animal models of cancer to examine how the immune cells respond to bile duct cancer. The goal of our research is to understand how a type of immune cells in the liver, “termed myeloid derived suppressor cell” induces resistance to treatment against bile duct cancer, and facilitates the progression of this cancer. This information will help identify approaches to inhibit these cells, and provide a treatment strategy for this devastating human malignancy."

2019 Andrea Lynn Scott Award

Supported by Jason Scott & family in memory of Andrea Scott

Targeting FGFR2 Signaling in Cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Saireudee Chaturantabut PhD, Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard

Amount: $50,000

"FGFR2 gene mutations occur frequently in cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) causing overactivation of a critical growth promoting pathway. This finding has led to the successful testing of new drugs targeting FGFR in preclinical and clinical trials. Nevertheless, studies have found drug resistance and adverse effects in patients treated with FGFR inhibitors suggesting that drug inhibitors alone may not be sufficient to cure CCA patients. A better understanding of FGFR2 in CCA biology and alternative therapeutic approaches are therefore critical and are the focus of this proposal. Here, we propose to explore antibody-based treatment strategies that we believe will lead to higher efficacy and lower toxicity, and the ability to overcome resistance. We will test these antibodies in CCA cell lines as well as in CCA animal models. We will further utilize novel technologies to engineer and improve current antibodies such that they may have enhanced therapeutic impact in ICC patients."

2019 Jacques Dupont Award

Supported by Barbara Dupont, family & friends in memory of Jacques Dupont

B7-H3 specific CAR T Cell Combinatorial Immunotherapy for ICC

Researcher: Theodorous Michelakos MD, MGH

Amount: $50,000

"The number of patients diagnosed with intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC), the cancer of the bile ducts inside the liver, has been rising. Treatment options, however, remain limited. To address this need we developed a novel immunotherapeutic strategy. We genetically manipulate T lymphocytes to recognize and destroy ICC cells. These T cells use a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to recognize the tumor-specific antigen B7-H3. We also use techniques to counteract mechanisms used by tumor cells to evade T cell destruction. We have shown that CAR T cells are effective in vitro, but only partially destroy human ICC tumors grafted in mice. We hypothesized that this is caused by the low number of CAR T cells reaching the ICC tumors. Thus, we will inject our CAR T cells directly into the vein draining to the mouse liver. The results will contribute to design CAR T cell-based clinical trials for ICC patients."

2019 Margaret M. Brown Award

Supported by Janice (current patient) and Dean Meyer – in honor of her mother who also died from CCA.

Understanding DKK1/GRP78 interactions and the implications for the tumour microenvironment in cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Edward Jarman PhD, University of Edinburgh

Amount: $50,000

"Dickkopf-1 (DKK1) is a protein which downregulates Wnt signalling, a cellular pathway which promotes growth in numerous types of cancer. Despite this, DKK1 is frequently seen at higher levels in CCA and is associated with more aggressive disease. This suggests that DKK1 may be acting in novel ways to promote tumour growth. Our previous work has sought to understand these novel mechanisms by identifying proteins which associate with DKK1. This work has highlighted GRP78 a protein which ensures other proteins inside the cell are correctly folded. However, GRP78 has also been shown to regulate immune cell activity when it is secreted from cells. As well as promoting cholangiocarcinoma growth, we see that DKK1 leads to changes in immune cell abundance within the tumour, dampening the immune response and facilitating tumour progression. We now hope to understand whether DKK1’s interaction with GRP78 promotes tumour growth, perhaps through its extracellular role as an immune modulator. "

2019 Marion U. Schwartz Award

Supported by CCF in memory of Marion U. Schwartz

Gut microbiome-dependent accumulation of myeloid cells promotes intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Qianfei Zhang MD, NCI/NIH

Amount: $50,000

"Cancer of the bile ducts within the liver, or intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC), is a rare but very aggressive malignancy with no effective treatment options. Gaining insight into the pathologic mechanisms of ICC is crucial to developing novel therapies. Livers of patients with ICC have increased myeloid cells, an immune cell that can suppress the immune system and promote cancer. Little is known about why these cells accumulate there. Several disease states can cause bacteria normally confined to the intestine, known as the gut microbiome, to travel to the liver. There, bacteria can interact with liver cells resulting in production of substances that can potentially recruit myeloid cells to the liver. The relationship between increased bacteria and increased myeloid cells in the liver has not been carefully examined. We hypothesize that presence of gut microbiome in the liver and the subsequent increase in myeloid cells contribute to promoting ICC."

2019 Mark R. Clements Award

Supported by Brad & Geri Clements in memory of Mark R. Clements

Investigating YAP inhibition as a novel treatment for Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Jacquelyn Russell PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital

Amount: $50,000

"Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (iCC) is a rare and deadly liver cancer. The only current treatments are surgery or chemotherapy, but even with treatment only a minority of patients survive. Therefore, better treatments are desperately needed, and the best way to develop new therapies is to understand how iCC grows and spreads. One hallmark of iCC is that it recruits surrounding healthy cells, known as the tumor reactive stroma (TRS), to help promote its survival. We have identified a gene, YAP, which is abnormally highly expressed in both iCC cells and the TRS. Thus, we believe YAP to be important for iCC growth and survival. We can grow iCC in mice such that the cancer is very similar to human iCC, and we will test if removal of YAP from iCC or the TRS reduces iCC growth in the mice. Additionally, we have developed a drug which specifically inhibits YAP, and we will test if this drug successfully treats mice with iCC. This work could develop the basis for a new treatment for iCC."

2019 Collaboration Award

Supported by Lorraine Twohill in honor of the collaboration between CCF, Target Cancer, AMMF & BiliProject

Deciphering the role of the IDH mutant in the tumor immune microenvironment of cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Meng-Ju Wu PhD, MGH

Amount: $65,000

"Mutations in the isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) 1 and 2 genes are common in patients with intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC). While drugs that block the function of mutant IDH show some promise in slowing tumor growth in ICC patients, the tumors rarely shrink and typically begin to re-growing in less than a year. Little is known about how the tumor cells respond to IDH inhibiting drug. This information is important in developing ways to treat these tumors more effectively. Our proposal is based on our findings indicating that IDH inhibiting drugs change both the properties of the tumor cells and their interactions with the immune system. We will examine these interactions in depth and develop approaches that both more effectively block the growth of tumor cells and increase the ability of the immune system to kill the tumor."

2018 Research Fellowship Awards

2018 Tommy J. West Memorial Research Fellowship

Role of PlGF/Nrp1 Pathway in Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma Cell Survival, Tumor-associated Fibrosis and Abnormal Vasculature

Amount: $50,000

Researcher: Shuichi Aoki, MD, PhD – Harvard University


Shuichi Aoki, MD, PhD

Harvard University

“PlGF/Nrp1 pathway is often activated in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas and is a potential mediator of the progression of these tumors. PlGF/Nrp1 promotes abundant extracellular matrix deposition (desmoplasia)—produced by CAFs—and formation of an abnormal vasculature in cholangiocarcinoma. We propose that anti-PlGF therapy could improve the delivery of chemotherapeutic agents and enhance the tumor immunity by reprogramming these microenvironmental abnormalities, and could also impact the clinical development of immune-checkpoint blockade in this intractable disease.”

2018 Andrea Marie Fuquay Memorial Research Fellowship

Developing Organotypic Slice Cultures as a New Model System in Cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Iris Sze Ue Luk, PhD – Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Amount: $50,000


Iris Sze Ue Luk, PhD

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

"We propose to use ’tumor slice cultures’ (TSCs) to evaluate the effects of new targeted therapies for the subset of cholangiocarcinomas with mutations in a gene called isocitrate dehydrogenase 1. Ultimately, the goal of this proposal is to establish TSCs as a new experimental system which can be used cancer centers world-wide to rapidly determine drug sensitivity of tumors from patients with cholangiocarcinoma."

2018 Andrea Scott Memorial Research Fellowship

Developing FGFR2 Degrader with PROTAC Technology to Target Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Tinghu Zhang, PhD – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Amount: $50,000


Tinghu Zhang, PhD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

"The altered activation of Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 (FGFR2) has been found in many ICC patients. A selective FGFR2 inhibitor has not been discovered and non-specific FGFR2 inhibitors have shown toxicities mainly due to FGFR1 inhibition in clinical trials. We will explore the PROTAC (Proteolysis targeting chimera) technology with a pan-FGFR inhibitor to develop a selective FGFR2 degrader. Our study will have great potential in developing a novel therapeutic strategy to improve the outcome of ICC patients."

2018 Jacques Dupont  Memorial Research Fellowship

Single-cell Immunogenomic Profiling of Neoantigen-reactive T Cells in Human Cholangiocarcinoma

Researcher: Chunhong Zheng, PhD – Providence Portland Medical Center

Amount: $50,000


Chunhong Zheng, PhD

Providence Portland Medical Center

"Immunotherapies that harness the T-cell response against mutated neoantigens can mediate regression of cancers including cholangiocarcinoma, but there is large variability in efficacy between patients. My project is to characterize the molecular profiles of neoantigen-reactive T cells infiltrating cholangiocarcinoma using single-cell sequencing technologies, which may lead to the development of more effective T-cell based immunotherapies for patients with cholangiocarcinoma."

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