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Tissue Banking for the CURE

by Nick Jacobs

Six years ago when we had an opportunity to create a tissue bank as part of our new research institute, the question that we raised with our scientists was related to their interpretation as to what bottlenecks they had experienced in their research.  They indicated that they had a difficult time finding tissue samples that were collected in such a way as to protect the integrity of the tissue.  If not properly preserved and collected, the scientists could not identify the necessary genomic and proteomic signatures present in the samples. Improperly collected tissue resulted in what they referred to as “white noise.”

We worked very carefully with our partner, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, to collect the tissue in a manner that was as close to perfect as humanly possible.  They helped us put together a 40 page protocol that helped to ensure the quality of the collection.

The next step that was taken in the process was to have a nurse case manager query every donor for about three hours.  Once again, the result was about 600 fields of demographic information regarding each donor.  The final result has been the world’s largest and most highly annotated collection of breast blood, tissue and serum.  Overall, there are nearly 40,000 samples in this collection.

In a recent article in “Science,” by Jennifer Couzin, entitled “In their Prime, And Dying of Cancer,” we explore, once again, a sad flaw in our current science world, the lack of commitment to those individuals between the ages of 15 and 39 who are much more likely to die of certain types of leukemia and other cancers.  According to Ms. Couzin, “Survival rates of 15 to 39 year olds have been virtually frozen since 1975.”

Her analysis of the whys involved in this situation are many and varied and include a potential lack of clinical trials, the lack of insurance coverage for this group and the lack of laboratory proof.  According to Leonard Sender who directs adolescent and young adult cancer programs at Children’s Hospital of Orange County and at the University of California, Irvine.  “As soon as you go to 18, 19 and 21 year olds, the samples are totally falling off.”

Because there is such a tragic loss of young life in these scenarios, and because there is a lack of samples in sarcomas, melanomas, thyroid cancer, gonadal tumors such as testicular cancer, and lymphomas, at least one answer seems relatively clear to me, utilize the various banking capabilities already in existence to begin to put all of the puzzle pieces together to help these young teens and adults in the future.  With large enough collections we can begin to do the necessary genomic and proteomic analysis to determine indicators like gene mutations.

Although the Lance Armstrong Foundation has made some strides in this area by investing about $2,000,000 in this area, the sad and difficult truth is that solutions will come only from an alliance that crosses boundaries, boundaries of youth and age, boundaries of tissue banking and boundaries of co-operation.  Once again, the hardest reality that we seem to face is true sharing in science.

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