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2011 Long-term International Fellowship Recipients Focus on Bladder Cancer, Cholangiocarcinoma

Aug 18, 2011

The Long-term International Fellowship (LIFe) enables early-career oncologists from low- and middle-income countries to earn valuable experience and training at a U.S. or Canadian institution, which they can then use to facilitate change in cancer care in their home country. Last year's inaugural recipient, Cesar Sánchez, MD, recently returned to his institution in Chile after completing his fellowship with mentor Matthew Ellis, MD, at Washington University in St. Louis.

This year, two more up-and-coming researchers have been selected to complete the fellowship. Parisa Karimi, MD, and Suebpong Tanasanvimon, MD, arrived in the United States this summer to begin their research and mentorship. The 2011 LIFe fellowships are supported by Amgen and The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation.

“Rich and fruitful experience” for Dr. Karimi
Before beginning the LIFe, Dr. Karimi was a research fellow in cancer immunology at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. She received her medical degree at Iran University of Medical Sciences in 2005, conducted an internship at the same institution, and went on to focus on cancer during her three-year fellowship.

Dr. Karimi was awarded a 2009 International Development and Education Award (IDEA) by the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO (formerly known as The ASCO Cancer Foundation®), which allowed her to serve as a visiting fellow at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Recieving the IDEA inspired her to apply for the LIFe, as it gave her the opportunity to continue with the research conducted during her fellowship at UCSF and "run a project that is not routinely accessible" due to the wide controversy surrounding opioid use in her country, she wrote in her proposal.

Dr. Karimi is carrying out the LIFe program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she will conduct her research project under the tutelage of David M. Berman, MD, PhD.

Dr. Karimi’s investigative work will constitute the first mechanistic investigation into a hypothesized link between opioid use and bladder cancer risk, according to Dr. Berman. Since both afflictions occur at high rates in Iran, and appear to be correlated, the results of this research have the potential to affect public health policy.

This fellowship will allow Dr. Karimi an opportunity to meet clinicians and to engage in important research focused on bladder cancer—a disease that presents at an earlier age in Iran and is two to three times more prevalent in opioid addicts than in non-users.

Dr. Karimi believes that “an important program like [the] LIFe is the best way for me to meet with distinguished clinicians and learn from their experiences. Considering the low number of research projects focusing on basic aspects of cancer in my country, this program will give me a rich and fruitful experience to share with my colleagues.”

Fighting cholangiocarcinoma in Thailand
Dr. Tanasanvimon graduated with high honors from Chulalongkorn University in 2000. After spending a few years performing community service in one of the most impoverished areas of southern Thailand, Dr. Tanasanvimon returned to Chulalongkorn University for further training in medicine and oncology.Beginning in 2000, Dr. Tanasanvimon completed an internship at the Sungai Kolok Hospital in Narathiwas, Thailand, then spent his residency and fellowship and subsequently joined the faculty at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital in Bangkok.

Dr. Tanasanvimon’s area of interest is gastrointestinal (GI) oncology, the most demanding field of oncology in Thailand and a primary focus of the Chulalongkorn Hospital. Each year, the hospital treats a high volume of patients with hepatobiliary and upper GI malignancies—in particular, cholangiocarcinoma.

Cholangiocarcinomas grow from cells in the bile duct of the liver. While about 9% of adult primary liver cancers are cholangiocarcinomas, the population of northeast Thailand has one of the highest known rates of the disease. In 2011, the Conquer Cancer Foundation developed a partnership with The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation which provided funding for a LIFe award and a Young Investigator Award in this area.

Dr. Tanasanvimon’s project on liver fluke–associated cholangiocarcinoma will specifically serve not only his interests but also King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital and the country’s needs.

Dr. Tanasanvimon is completing the LIFe program at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he will conduct his research project under the mentorship of Milind Javle, MD.

“LIFe is an outstanding opportunity for a motivated oncologist from a developing country like Thailand,” said Dr. Tanasanvimon in his proposal. “Under Dr. Javle’s guidance, I will have a meaningful clinical and research experience that will benefit my career as an academic oncologist.”

For more information on the LIFe program, visit conquercancerfoundation/life.

By Kelsey Parrish and Elyse Blye, ASCO Staff. A portion of this article was originally published in ASCO Daily News.
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