The International Cholangiocarcinoma Research Network (ICRN) is a program initiated by the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation (CCF). The core mission of this network of international experts is “to rapidly translate scientific discoveries into practice for cholangiocarcinoma patients through a collaborative, highly translational international research network.”1
The ICRN is comprised of 175 clinicians and researchers from diverse disciplines who share a common passion to improve the knowledge and understanding of the etiology, prevention, early detection, treatment, and prognosis of patients with cholangiocarcinoma (CCA).
At one of the sessions at the 2022 CCF annual meeting, several CCA experts provided a snapshot of current launched initiatives of the ICRN, highlighting the extent of the multi-institutional, multinational efforts that are underway.
Mitesh J. Borad, MD, ICRN Chair and Associate Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, AZ, said, “Given that CCA is an uncommon cancer, the only way is to have a highly collaborative translational research network and transcend institutional, geographic, and national boundaries.”
In the first part of the session, Dr Borad outlined several research-related initiatives of the ICRN.
The ICRN–Industry Engagements Initiative creates opportunities for industry members involved in the field of CCA to collaborate with ICRN members. An example of such avenues would be advisory boards during the CCF annual conferences to obtain feedback on clinical trial concepts and designs.
The Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS), Dr Borad noted, is being championed by Lewis R. Roberts, MBChB, PhD, Consultant, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. The goal of this effort is to study the genetic variations that are associated with CCA, Dr Borad said, “to inspire progress and find new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat CCA.” The goal of the GWAS is to enroll 2500 participants in the program.
“It is great to have data, but converting it to knowledge is a whole other story,” Dr Borad said. Toward that end, the CCF is overseeing a prospectively collected epidemiological, clinical, and molecular database.
Dr Borad credited the endeavors of the CCF, in particular CCF Founder and CEO Stacie Lindsey, for spearheading this effort, to “derive meaningful insights and conclusions that can help inform research we do in the future.”
A Cure CCA Think Tank has been initiated and is “bringing together not only the CCA experts, but experts whose work is outside of this field in artificial intelligence or early detection in general or drug development.”
The goal of the Cure CCA Think Tank initiative is to “interface all of these experts with disease-specific experts, and see if we can come up with themes and ideas that can deliver high impact output in shorter periods of time,” Dr Borad explained.
The themes of the inaugural meeting of that initiative are precision medicine, early diagnostics, and precision therapeutics.
The second part of the session was on educational and outreach initiatives. Nilofer S. Azad, MD, ICRN Vice Chair and Professor of Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, stated, “We are trying to conduct outreach not just within the United States, but also internationally.”
Dr Azad explained that “One of the big initiatives that started a few years ago was the Asia Pacific Conference, which is held in a different country in Asia each year.”
Another initiative, Dr Azad said, is the monthly Translational Seminar series, in partnership with the European Network for the Study of Cholangiocarcinoma (ENS-CCA). The Translational Seminar series is a “tool to disseminate emerging basic, translational, and clinical information to interested researchers around the globe, with hope of fostering new ideas and deeper collaborations among our membership.”2
A third initiative is the ICRN Mentorship Program, which “is a program really meant to help build relationships between people in different countries, but also, of course, to mentor our junior folks,” Dr Azad said.
The ICRN Mentorship program includes 2 mentoring programs—the Career Mentoring Program and the Scientific Mentoring Program. The Career Mentoring Program, Dr Azad said, is a 6-month virtual mentoring activity, with a focus on career development and professional choices.
The Scientific Mentoring Program, she added, is a longer, 12-month program that is project-focused, with the goal of “achieving a tangible abstract or paper,” Dr Azad said. Currently, 8 matched mentors and mentees from different countries are enrolled in the program.
The ongoing CCA Fellowship program also provides peer-reviewed funding of $50,000 per project, using a study section format. A total of 47 “Letters of Intent” were submitted, as well as 24 invited applications.
The Meet the Experts initiative was launched in collaboration with the ENS-CCA. The goal of this initiative is for CCA experts to interact with a diverse group of global leaders to “stimulate innovative and collaborative ideas and opportunities,” Dr Azad concluded.
Dr Borad and Dr Azad noted that these efforts represent every member’s hope that the concerted efforts of the ICRN lead to significant scientific advances that improve the outcomes for patients with CCA.
- Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. International Cholangiocarcinoma Research Network. https://cholangiocarcinoma.org/icrn/. Accessed March 9, 2022.
- Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. ICRN/ENS-CCA Translational Science Seminar Series. https://cholangiocarcinoma.org/international-cholangiocarcinoma-research-network/webinars/. Accessed March 9, 2022.