I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a 30-year-long career in cancer research and I would absolutely say that my greatest achievement has been my involvement in setting up and running the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank (www.breastcancertissuebank.org).
First established in 2010, we opened the Tissue Bank up to researchers in 2012. Our primary objective was to give researchers access to breast tissue samples from breast cancer patientswith a view toimproving the pace and accuracy ofcancer research. Since its inception, the Tissue Bank has done just that, vastly acceleratingour progress towards faster diagnosis and better cancer treatments.
Today, the Tissue Bank sits across four dedicated sites including the Aberdeen Cancer Centre at the University of Aberdeen – currently the only Scottish centre involved with the Tissue Bank.
It was a massive undertaking to bring the project together and it gives me enormous satisfaction and a real sense of pride to be involved in establishing this alongside my colleagues, and more so, to see it flourish today.
The idea to establish a breast cancer tissue bank first came about during a meeting in November 2006. I, along with 56 of the UK’s most influential breast cancer experts identified the key gaps and priorities in breast cancer research. We wanted to pinpoint what we could do that wouldhave the greatest impact on improving the lives of people with breast cancer. We all agreed that the most significant barrier to accelerating progress was a shortage of high-quality breast cancer tissue. From this idea our Tissue Bank was born.
I was immensely proud to oversee the launch of the Tissue Bank and facilitate the delivery of tissue samples donated by people with breast cancer to the research community.
Over the last 10 years, the team has worked hard keep up with the latest advancements in science to make sure the Tissue Bank can keep up with ever-changing demand.
Together with sites in London, Norwich and Sheffield, the University of Aberdeen has contributed to the Tissue Bank by collecting samples from breast cancer patients who present to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, bringing the Tissue Bank’s total collection to 126,000 samples.
Researchers from across the globe can apply to access samples and the Tissue Bank has supported research teams in 12 countries, including the UK, Taiwan, USA, Italy, Finland, Sweden, South Korea, Portugal, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and Germany.
Everyone involved with the Tissue Bank is an active researcher, so we know and understand the research landscape. This means we have been able to adapt and evolve over the last 10 years to meet the need of researchers and we will continue to do this to make outcomes for breast cancer patients the very best they can be.
It brings me immense pride when I see how the Tissue Bank has contributed to some key insights into breast cancer. For example, scientists from Queen Mary University of London and the Francis Crick Institute used samples from the Tissue Bank to identify a treatment that may reduce the risk of people developing breast cancer linked with obesity.Samples from the Tissue Bank have contributed to research at the University of York which found a protein on cancer cells that may help breast cancer spread around the body which could eventually lead to a diagnostic tool for breast cancer.Researchers at the Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, used cells donated to the Tissue Bank to recreate a structure closely resembling breast ducts in the lab. The researchers are now using this 3D model to study an early form of breast cancer.
Fundamentally however, whilst I am tremendously proud of the whole Tissue Bank team in bringing this idea to fruition, none of our achievements would have been possible without the thousands of cancer patients who donated their tissue and for that I would like to express my deepest gratitude.
Moving forward, as the number and diversity of projects the Tissue Bank supports continues to grow, I am confident that at least one of these will provide a new breakthrough for the women and men who are diagnosed with breast cancer.