The solutions to cancer’s mysteries may lie within us — more specifically, within our blood, urine and saliva. Soon, every patient who visits The Kirklin Clinic will be able to contribute samples of these to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Fluid and Tissue Bank and support breakthroughs in cancer research.
The Fluid and Tissue Bank is a new initiative of the UAB Tissue Collection and Banking Facility, which has been providing tissue samples to researchers for more than 30 years. UAB was among the first institutions in the United States to recognize the importance of tissue samples to scientific research, and these biorepositories store and maintain hun-dreds to thousands of tissue samples for scientific research.
|William Grizzle is director of the Fluid and Tissue Bank, a new initiative of the UAB Tissue Collection and Banking Facility.
“The better information we have on medicine in general, then the more effective our treatments for cancer will be,” says William Grizzle, M.D., Ph.D., facility director. “We used to tell patients that the research done on their tissues today would help their children or their children’s children. But today science is moving so rapidly that this research could impact the patients’ own care.”
Human-tissue samples are vital to the scientific study of all diseases, especially cancer research, says Grizzle, a senior scientist in the Cancer Center. Scientists can compare gene profiles, DNA, clinical outcomes and other characteristics to locate and identify specific genes or mutations that routinely appear in cancers. That information enables doctors to identify patients who are more prone to cancer and select the most effective treatments.
Development of a tissue bank was among his priorities when Cancer Center Director Edward Partridge, M.D., was named to the post in 2007. A $200,000 donation from businessman and longtime Cancer Center supporter Caldwell Marks led to its opening in February on the first floor of The Kirklin Clinic.
Staff now ask patients for their consent and collect urine and saliva samples, and the clinical laboratory handles the blood collection. “We try to get consent from all patients who come to Kirklin,” Grizzle says. “It’s entirely optional, but only about 5 percent or less say no.”
“Cancer research really cannot move forward without having adequate numbers of human tissues to study,” Grizzle says. “For the first time, we’ll be able to meet investigators’ needs immediately, particularly for fluids, which are difficult to collect when they are fresh.”
Meeting a need
Grizzle says there are three models of tissue banking — simple collection and storage of available tissues, prospective collection based on a researcher’s specific criteria or a combination of the two.
Until recently, UAB operated under the prospective model. “Scientists would come to us and want particular tissues, and we would collect those tissues according to their needs,” Grizzle says. “The advantage to that approach is that you collect only what is necessary, and you collect it just the way the investigator wants.”
The disadvantage, he notes, is time. “If you’re going to collect as you go along, it takes longer to collect specimens; there’s not a large availability of tumor samples immediately,” he says. “If you’re focusing on clinical outcomes, there is a long period of time before that data is available.”
Grizzle hopes quickly to build an adequate tissue and fluid bank to attract other UAB researchers and help cover its operating costs. Current funding will allow the bank to operate for about 18 months.
Grizzle and his team also manage the tissue resources associated with the center’s various SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) grants. UAB also is one of six institutions that supply tissues to investigators across the country through the national Cooperative Human Tissue Network, and it is the biorepository for the Pulmonary Hypertension Breakthrough Initiative, which collects, stores and distributes diseased lung tissue for pulmonary hypertension research.