Research on bile duct cancer detection earns $10,000 prize

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

Research on bile duct cancer detection earns $10,000 prize

Feb 6, 2024

Moments after finding out his research on the detection of cholangiocarcinoma—a rare bile duct cancer that is among the deadliest forms of cancer—earned first place in the 2023 AMA Research Challenge, Jesse Kirkpatrick was at a loss for words.

“I cannot believe this,” said Kirkpatrick, now in his third year at Harvard Medical School. “I’m speechless.”

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Kirkpatrick’s first-place finish earned him a $10,000 prize from sponsor Laurel Road. His research—“Detection of cholangiocarcinoma with protease activity probes” (PDF)—beat out nearly 1,100 other entries from medical students, resident physicians and fellows, and international medical graduates in the nation’s largest national, multispecialty research event.

The panel of three expert judges lauded the work for the technical mastery Kirkpatrick demonstrated. His five-minute video presentation made the research relatable to panelists who were not necessarily familiar with the condition.

Available to stream, the AMA Research Challenge Finals offers the chance to watch the five finalists present their research and receive feedback and tips from the physician judges.

His “ability to convey these details and take us on a journey reflects the mastery that Jesse has over both the clinical content as well as the science that was conducted for three people that are not treating people with cholangiocarcinoma every day,” said judge Sanjay Desai, MD, the AMA’s chief academic officer. “That foundation across the clinical and science disciplines and to take us on that journey is so impressive.”

The five-year survival rate for cholangiocarcinoma is around 10%, putting it on par with pancreatic cancer as one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The lack of early detection methods for the disease is a major reason for cholangiocarcinoma’s high fatality rate. Kirkpatrick’s work aimed to create a framework for accurate, early detection.

Kirkpatrick, who appeared on an episode of the “AMA Making the Rounds” podcast to discuss his work, hopes his first-place finish will continue to shed light on the dangers of cholangiocarcinoma.

Upon being selected as a finalist, Kirkpatrick noted that the people in the cholangiocarcinoma disease community and those with whom he works as part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine were “thrilled” by that news. “It meant that a rare disease like this would get attention that it never had gotten before,” Kirkpatrick said.

2023 AMA Research Challenge winner Jesse Kirkpatrick and AMA President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD
Harvard medical student Jesse Kirkpatrick reacts to the news that he won the AMA Research Challenge.

The AMA Research Challenge offers young and aspiring physicians a chance to showcase their research on a significant stage. While nearly 1,100 entrants submitted research poster abstracts, about 850 were selected to present posters as part of the virtual event. A semifinal round featured 40 presenters with the top-scored research. From that group, a roster of five finalists rose to the top. The overall level of the research made the decision particularly difficult for the panel of three expert judges.

“What’s impressive is that we are asking people really early on in their careers to have a strong clinical insight, but also to think like a scientist and the be an exceptional communicator,” said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, MAS, editor-in-chief of JAMA® and the JAMA Network. “To be able to tell us this is the broad question we are interested in. This is the clinical context. And here are the things that this specific experiment was able to tell us and what it wasn’t able to tell us.”

As the largest national, multispecialty research event, the AMA Research Challenge focuses on a diverse range of topics. Projects from the four other AMA Research Challenge finalists focused on:

  • The use of nerve cells to help treat congenital heart disease.
  • White matter markers for treatment of depression.
  • The effects of obstructive sleep apnea on respiration muscle systems
  • Improving nonclinical physician workflow with machine learning.

Each of the five finalists appeared on recent episodes of the AMA “Making the Rounds” podcast, which is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify or anywhere podcasts are available. The episodes offer a glimpse of each of their work and future ambitions.

For medical students looking to hone their research skills, the AMA offers resources and programs that bring you from the basics all the way to the AMA Research Challenge.

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