Building the tools of cholangiocarcinoma research- a researcher’s reflection.

Dec 15, 2019 | News, Research & Innovation

In December 2019, TargetCancer Foundation announced $240,000 in new cholangiocarcinoma grant funding. The following post was written by Grant Recipient Nabeel Bardeesy. 

I would like to congratulate TargetCancer Foundation for its outstanding contribution to research in rare and under-studied cancers over the past 10 years. My laboratory at the Massachusetts General Hospital has been a long-time partner of TCF, and their support has been essential in enabling work at MGH and beyond to expand research in cancers of the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma). TCF fulfills an important gap in research funding—providing venture capital toward areas that have been neglected and fall out of the domain of more conservative funding sources. This is crucial for rare cancers.

Despite its public health impact, cholangiocarcinoma has not been investigated as widely as many other cancer types. A number of years ago, I joined a collaborative team of laboratory and clinical scientists at MGH who recognized the major unmet need for cholangiocarcinoma research. At the same time, TargetCancer Foundation approached me looking to fund cholangiocarcinoma research.

Building the tools- why cell lines?

An important approach to researching cancer in the laboratory is to use cell lines derived from human cancer tissue. Cell lines allow us to understand the genes that cause cancers to grow and to identify effective medicines. Unfortunately, few cell lines or other model systems for cholangiocarcinoma have been developed, creating a significant hurdle to research.

This TCF supported platform is the largest of its kind, and will be used as a public resource to enhance cholangiocarcinoma research throughout the cancer research community.

Together with collaborators at MGH, we established a program of bench-to-bedside cholangiocarcinoma studies, beginning with the creation of much-needed models of the disease. TCF provided us with critical seed funding to launch these efforts, and continued support has allowed us to expand into new areas of investigation, to take on additional challenging projects that are not readily funded by other sources, and to create one of the few programs focusing specifically on this disease.

The impact on patients today

With TCF’s ongoing support, our cell line development project is nearing completion and we now have established models representing important subsets of the disease, including those for which cell lines were not previously available. We have used these cell lines to understand therapies currently being tested in the clinic and to define how resistance occurs. Most importantly, studies with these models and careful analysis of patient specimens have helped to guide clinical trials that have shown significant promise for patients whose tumors had become resistant to medicines. This TCF supported platform is the largest of its kind, and will be used as a public resource to enhance cholangiocarcinoma research throughout the cancer research community.

I am proud to be a partner with TCF and am happy to convey that both the basic research and clinical trials addressing this disease have undergone transformative changes in recent years. There is now a great deal of interest among researchers to tackle this disease and real advances in treatment are emerging. TCF has played a major role in the growth of this field.

The founder of TCF, Paul Poth, passed away from this terrible disease; however, his legacy of commitment to fostering cholangiocarcinoma research and the continued efforts of TCF have inspired and supported a dedicated program in cholangiocarcinoma studies. I am confident that this program and the creation of resources that have emerged from it will have a long-standing impact, helping to reduce suffering from this disease and bringing us closer to a cure.