Bracelet Sales Fund Cholangiocarcinoma Research

A cancer diagnosis motivates sisters to leverage their jewelry business and support cholangiocarcinoma research at Mass General's Gosnell Center.

Lisa Sisco and her sister, Carolyn Berluti, had no idea how successful their jewelry business would be when they launched Sisco + Berluti about ten years ago. But from the start, says Lisa, “We knew that we would use our success to help raise money for causes that are important to us.” Cholangiocarcinoma research at the Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center is one such cause.

Despite the clear need to better understand how to diagnose and treat this disease, it is still underfunded and understudied.

Life took an unexpected turn for Lisa last January when she received a cholangiocarcinoma diagnosis. Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer of the liver’s bile duct. Cancer risk was on the sisters’ radar. Their mother died of ovarian cancer and two of the four sisters in their close-knit Italian family have a BRCA mutation, which increases the chances of ovarian and breast cancers. But neither Lisa nor Carolyn had ever heard of cholangiocarcinoma.

Excellence in Her Own Backyard

After her diagnosis, Lisa searched the internet for information, resources and reputable oncologists. She learned that the Gosnell Center is one of the largest and most experienced centers in New England for the treatment and care of patients with cholangiocarcinoma. Over the past five years, the Gosnell Center has put together one of the country’s leading multidisciplinary teams to study cholangiocarcinoma.

During her research, Lisa also discovered the profile of Mass General oncologist Lipika Goyal, MD, who has co-authored several research papers on cholangiocarcinoma. It turns out Dr. Goyal and her colleagues Nabeel Bardeesy, PhD, basic science researcher in the Mass General Center for Cancer Research, and Andrew Zhu, MD, PhD, director of Liver Cancer Research, are on the trail to find more personalized ways to target treatment for this rare form of liver cancer.

Feeling very fortunate to be near Mass General, Lisa made an appointment to see Dr. Goyal. “As soon as I met her, I knew I wanted her to be my doctor,” Lisa says. “I felt comfortable with her and have complete trust in her.”

Today, Dr. Goyal continues to be Lisa’s oncologist. Lisa is receiving chemotherapy, the standard therapy for cholangiocarcinoma. So far, she has responded well to it.

Advancing Cholangiocarcinoma Research

There are only about 5,000 diagnoses of cholangiocarcinoma in the United States each year, though cases are rising around the world. Dr. Goyal and her colleagues are investigating multiple of the known cholangiocarcinoma-associated genetic mutations. They are also looking at potential drugs that target and inhibit these mutations.

Pictured in Mass General's Bardeesy Lab are, from the left, Carolyn Berlutti, Lisa Sisco and Lipika Goyal, MD.
Pictured in Mass General’s Bardeesy Lab are, from the left, Carolyn Berlutti, Lisa Sisco and Lipika Goyal, MD.

“But there is still a big gap in understanding the biology of this disease,” Dr. Goyal says. Despite the clear need to better understand how to diagnose and treat this disease, it is still underfunded and understudied.

Lisa and Carolyn wanted to change that. They went to work on the design and sale of a new “Hope” bracelet, profits from which have been supporting the critical research in cholangiocarcinoma at the Gosnell Center. “Raising money for an organization is a really important part of our identity,” Lisa says. “There is nothing more important to us than this cause.”

The bracelet features Burma jade beads, a purposeful choice by Lisa and Carolyn. For thousands of years, jade has been revered for its healing properties and ability to bring overall well-being, emotional healing, good luck and good fortune.

Sisters in Arms

Lisa believes in good fortune when she thinks of her sister. Regardless of the challenge, Carolyn simply shows up. Not just sisters and business partners, Carolyn has been by Lisa’s side the whole way. “She takes me to every appointment and spends long hours with me at every chemotherapy session,” Lisa says. “She’s been amazing.”

“The support that Lisa and her sister are giving us allows us to further understand this difficult disease …”

They continue to be productive even during the chemo sessions. They use the time to brainstorm their business strategy and sketch out new jewelry designs.

Lisa says she’s an optimist and takes it one day at a time. “I know this cancer is rare and there’s no absolute cure,” she says. But she firmly believes answers will emerge in the Mass General research labs. “With all the work that is going on in their labs,” she says, “there is hope.”

Dr. Goyal agrees: “The support that Lisa and her sister are giving us allows us to further understand this difficult disease and continue to come up with new treatments for cholangiocarcinoma.”

For more information on how to support cholangiocarcinoma research at the Mass General Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers, please contact us.