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National tumour bank to aid cancer researchers

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http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ ... ealth/home


From Friday's Globe and Mail

In a bid to better understand the murky world of cancer, a national tumour bank registry has been formed, allowing scientists to seek the disease's causes and perhaps discover targeted therapies.

With more than 7,000 samples, roughly half of them breast tumours, scientists around the world will be able to draw on the Canadian Tumour Repository Network for their research.

"We're creating an environment where we can foster and facilitate the development of tumour banks," Brent Schacter, chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Provincial Cancer Agencies, said at a Toronto news conference yesterday. "This is really the start of something that is going to grow."

What would have seemed like science fiction two decades ago, when cancer studies were largely confined to rodents, is now reality. Tissue, excised from a cancerous tumour within 20 minutes of being surgically removed from a patient, is flash frozen, then kept at temperatures of -80 C. By placing tumours in the deep freeze, the tissue retains all the characteristics it would have while it was growing in a patient.

Most tissue samples housed in tumour banks today are from cancers of the colon, breast, lung, prostate and ovary, collected over recent years in five provinces.

One sample is from Lisa Brewster, a 40-year-old breast cancer patient in Victoria. When she had surgery Jan. 31 to remove cancer from her right breast, she was happy to turn over the tissue to research. She also provided a blood sample. "I had no use for that tumour or for the tissue," said the public relations specialist in a telephone interview yesterday. "I wanted to be able to help someone else or at least have the potential to help someone else down the road."

Indeed, Ms. Brewster's tumour may be of particular interest to researchers, given that her invasive breast cancer recurred less than three years after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Abhijit Guha, co-director of the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre in Toronto, said tumour banks have helped develop targeted therapies. "Fifteen years ago, this would have seemed like science fiction," said Dr. Guha, a University of Toronto professor of neurosurgery.

While conventional cancer therapies such as chemotherapy have been aimed at trying to bomb more bad cells than good, newer types of targeted treatments are becoming the future of cancer care. They involve drugs that kill cancer cells but keep healthy ones intact.

The national tumour bank, funded by a five-year, $3.8-million award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a federally funded agency, is being billed as a way for researchers to increase their discoveries. It also holds the possibility of being able to provide earlier screening and earlier cancer detection.

"We know that current cancer therapies work well for a lot of patients but are not successful for others with the same diagnosis," said Philip Branton, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of Cancer Research. "We are trying to find out why this happens so that we can tailor treatment to individuals with greater certainty of success."

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