Cancer doesn’t wait or discriminate. When a new research idea sparks, time is of the essence. But gathering enough human tissue samples for testing can take years, delaying potential progress.
This is where access to an established tumor bank is so critical to any major cancer research program. Under the direction of Hassana Fathallah, PhD, the UC Cancer Institute’s tissue banking program has been transformed into a robust, strictly organized and structured operation that gives researchers access to thousands of human tumor specimens—malignant and paired normal tissues, blood and urine—as well as associated clinical data.
"Having a comprehensive tumor bank linked to clinical, pathological and research data allows the rapid introduction of information from the bench into everyday treatment,” says Fathallah, scientific director of tumor banking at the UC Cancer Institute and research assistant professor at the College of Medicine.
Fathallah was recruited from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in 2009 to create—essentially from the ground up—a central tumor bank for the UC Cancer Institute. Previously, there were numerous individual efforts to collect tumor specimens but no coordinated, institution-wide process to ensure quality, consistency and access to specimens.
"Patients give us a tremendous gift when they choose to donate tissue or other biospecimens. We want to make sure that gift is not wasted by preserving it with best-practice standards and delivering it to the right people,” says Fathallah.
Fathallah and her team of three coordinators have developed standard operating procedures for handling, collecting, storing and distributing biospecimens to ensure that there is no separation between procedures on paper and realities at the bench.
"Details are critical to a quality tumor banking program—everything from the type of tube we use to how we put it in the box and label it is important. If something isn’t working, we troubleshoot the issue and revise our standard operating procedures as a team,” she adds. Although the tumor banking team is still transferring some data from the old system into the new central banking software, Fathallah says it is essentially "open for business.”
Researchers can now apply for access to more than 3,000 biospecimens, and the number continues to grow each day. So far, the tissue bank is actively gathering lung, prostate, head and neck, liver and pancreas cancer specimens, with the goal of eventually including all cancer types, including hematologic malignancies.
"People have been enthusiastic and want to be part of the process, which has made progress possible. This has—and will continue to be—a monumental team effort that we could not have achieved without collaboration from the surgeons, nurses and pathologists as well administrators at UC and University Hospital,” says Fathallah.
The hidden leader behind the effort is George Atweh, MD, director of the UC Cancer Institute and Herbert F. Koch Chair and professor of hematology oncology, who says a centralized and well-managed tumor bank is critical for the success of any academic cancer center.
"Access to human tumor tissues is an important link in the process of translating laboratory discoveries made in animal models to human cancer. Dr. Fathallah and her staff deserve tremendous credit for bringing this operation of the UC Cancer Institute into the 21st century," he says.
"Dr. Atweh sees the big picture and his support and guidance have allowed us to connect with resources and troubleshoot issues faster. Without his support and vision, this couldn’t have happened,” adds Fathallah.
Tissue Access Requests:
Any researcher affiliated with the UC Cancer Institute can apply for access to the tissue bank. All requests will be reviewed by a research committee prior to approval.
At this time, there is no charge for access. To obtain a tissue request form, contact Hassana Fathallah, PhD, at email@example.com
Closing a Research Resource Gap:
The UC Cancer Institute is a core component of the Cincinnati Cancer Center, a collaborative effort of the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Health University Hospital that brings together interdisciplinary research teams of caring scientists and health professionals to research and develop new cancer therapies, while providing a continuum of care for children, adults and families affected by cancer.
Cincinnati Children’s already has a central tissue banking program for pediatric cancers; establishing a comprehensive adult tissue bank closes a gap in critical research resources on the adult side.