Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Innovation Awardee

October 2023

A $50,000 SCI Innovation Award was awarded to Lipika Goyal, MD, associate professor of medicine (oncology), Edgar Engleman, MD, professor of pathology and of medicine (immunology and rheumatology), Daniel Delitto, MD, PhD, assistant professor of surgery (general surgery), and Gregory Charville, PhD, assistant professor of pathology, for their proposal titled “Elucidating mechanisms of lymph node metastatic tolerance in high-risk resectable cholangiocarcinoma.” Goyal recently joined Stanford as an oncologist focused on drug development. She studies hepatobiliary malignancies and has investigated how mutations affecting the growth factor receptor (FGFR) protein influence drug resistance. Her work has led to the clinical development of the drug futibatinib for the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma. Engleman studies the role of immune cells in cancer and other diseases, and his studies have led to the development of a new treatment for prostate cancer. Delitto is a surgical oncologist who also conducts research in cancer immunology. Charville specializes in the diagnosis of rare tumors and studies the genetic and epigenetic basis of cancer.

Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma is an aggressive liver cancer with a high rate of recurrence and poor survival (<10% at 5 years). New drugs that utilize the immune system to fight cancer (an approach called immunotherapy) are showing promise and are now part of the standard treatment for advanced disease, but the overall benefit is still small. One reason for the low rate of success is the presence of immune cells that protect the tumor from immunotherapy. These tumor-protective immune cells (a kind of T cell) originate in lymph nodes, which normally contain immune cells that help fight infections. Interestingly, cholangiocarcinoma tumors often spread to lymph nodes. Goyal, Engleman, Delitto, and Charvillehypothesize that when cholangiocarcinoma cells reach the lymph nodes, they reprogram the immune system to protect the tumor. In that case, interfering with this process may help make immunotherapy more effective. Through the support of the SCI Innovation Award, they will test this hypothesis by characterizing immune cells both at the original tumor site and in lymph nodes to learn how changes in immune cells may enable tumor persistence. The findings may ultimately make it possible to identify therapeutic strategies for improving patient outcomes in cholangiocarcinoma and other cancers.