On five Saturdays each year, 100 women make their way to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center to take part in the battle against breast cancer. They come from Indiana and surrounding states to donate healthy breast tissue, which will fuel research into the causes and potential cure of breast cancer. They travel, because it is the only tissue bank in the world that collects healthy breast tissue and blood.
Founded six years ago by Connie Rufenbarger, patient advocate and breast cancer survivor, the tissue bank collects tissue and biomolecules from women ages 18-80, to extend understanding of the pathology of breast cancer. The goal is to provide breast cancer researchers around the world with healthy blood and breast tissue to use in comparison to diseased tissue to identify and understand changes.
Improving Researchers’ Understanding of the Normal Mammary Gland
“Connie is the key to everything,” says Dr. Susan Clare, a breast surgeon and member of the Komen Tissue Bank’s executive team. The concept of the tissue bank originated in 1997, when Rufenbarger co-authored a report for the Cancer Research Institute that identified a lack of understanding of the normal, healthy mammary gland as a barrier to progress in understanding the causes and potential cures of breast cancer. Five years later, when Rufenbarger realized no one had acted upon the report’s recommendations, she decided to tackle the problem herself. She recruited medical oncologist, Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo, and they held their first successful blood collection drive in 2005. The following year, they began collecting healthy breast tissue.
To date, the tissue bank has collected more than 1,700 healthy tissue samples and 6,000 blood samples. A full-time staff of five oversees an army of volunteers for each donor event, following rigorous protocols to ensure the quality of each specimen. “We are very precise about collecting all samples in the exact same way with the exact same equipment,” explains Jill Henry, chief operating officer.
A recent partnership with Hologic has made this process easier, for both volunteers and donors. “Hologic’s Atec breast biopsy device provides consistently high-quality samples and is extremely patient-friendly,” says Henry. “It allows us to acquire all the samples we need with a single insertion and deliver pain medication at the same time, which is important when you consider we are acquiring three to four tissue samples each from more than 150 women a day.”
Collecting A Broad Range of Samples
Because breast cancer is indiscriminate, the Komen Tissue Bank seeks tissue donations from the broadest possible spectrum of women — from puberty to menopause, pregnant women, women who are lactating and women whose breasts are undergoing involution. Any woman 18 or older who has never been diagnosed with breast cancer can donate tissue a maximum of two times, once from each breast. Breast cancer survivors, who have one healthy breast, also can donate.
“We need to understand the progression of breast cancer in all women, of all ages, from different ethnic groups, in different periods of their lives. Right now we need more donations from women from different ethnic groups, especially African American and Asian women,” says Clare.
This year, through a partnership with the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, the Komen Tissue Bank will acquire 1,000 additional tissue samples between now and the end of January. Called Indy’s Super Cure, the event will bring the message of the Komen Tissue Bank into millions of homes around the world. The goal is to increase awareness of the tissue bank and its role in moving breast cancer research forward; attract tissue donations from a broader, more diverse group of women; and raise money to support the research initiatives.
“This is a huge event for the tissue bank and, once again, Hologic is helping to make it happen,” says Henry. “They will load 24 biopsy consoles (control units) enabling us to acquire tissue samples from 350 women each day. We’ve never had an event this big. Plus, Hologic employees will come from around the country to set up and help patients through the process.”
Sharing Samples and Results with Researchers Around the World
Researchers across the United States, throughout Europe, and as far away as Australia are using samples from the Komen Tissue Bank in critical studies. “Every well-respected research facility, including the Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute, Dana Farber and the Royal Marsden Cancer Center in London, are making strides in understanding the cause of breast cancer thanks to the tissue bank,” says Clare. All data generated from the research studies is returned to the tissue bank to be shared with other researchers.
It’s an amazing story. But, Clare points out, “More needs to be done.” The team at the Komen Tissue Bank is working constantly to develop a broader spectrum of tissue samples, to reach out to more breast cancer researchers and to raise more money to fund new research initiatives.
For more information: http://komentissuebank.iu.edu/