World’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer research

The world’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer is to launch in the UK, to help push forward research into the cancer with the bleakest prognosis.

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank brings together surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, researchers and database experts to co-ordinate a national – and ultimately international -­ resource that will help to develop new treatments and bring these to patients much faster.

The Tissue Bank is being funded with £2 million from the UK research charity, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF). Its founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks, said:

“Researchers told us that progress was being held back by the scarcity of high-quality tissue samples on which they can test their ideas and validate their research. For research results to be more meaningful, the samples must be collected, handled and stored consistently, following strict procedures. A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will not only ensure that more samples become available to researchers, but that these are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for the very best research to be carried out. It’s a huge commitment for the charity, but thanks to the generosity of our supporters we’ve been able to make it happen.”

Around 8,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. It’s known as the UK’s deadliest cancer, with a survival rate of just 3% – a figure that has barely improved in 40 years. New treatments are desperately needed: surgery to remove the tumour offers the best chance of survival – but most patients are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread to other organs. Without surgery, the average survival time from diagnosis is 6 months.

The new facility, based at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), will store tissue donated by consenting patients with diseases of the pancreas undergoing biopsy or surgery at partner hospitals in five cities initially: London, Southampton, Oxford, Leicester and Swansea. All samples will be anonymised before being banked.

Uniquely, the PCRF Tissue Bank will not only house samples of patients’ pancreatic tumours and other pancreatic diseases, but will also store blood, saliva and urine samples. Each donation will be logged with detailed medical and, where possible, genetic information so that researchers can request exactly the right type of sample for their research. Data generated by all research projects using Tissue Bank samples will be fed back into a bespoke database, and will be made freely available to the global research community, to inform and underpin their own research.

The development of the Tissue Bank has been driven by Professor Hemant Kocher, a pancreatic cancer researcher at Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL, and consultant pancreas and liver surgeon at The Royal London hospital, Barts Health NHS Trust. He said: “This is a highly ambitious venture, but one that is crucial to enabling researchers to investigate new treatments for this most lethal cancer. At the moment, we can help only a small proportion of patients with surgery. For the majority of those diagnosed, and for those who see their cancer return even after surgery, there’s very little else we can offer.

“The Tissue Bank will also help us to tackle this disease with earlier diagnosis,” he added. “Many proteins associated with pancreatic cancer are also found in blood, urine and saliva, so having these materials from patients alongside the tissue samples helps us to find ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier, curative stage,” he added.

The six initial key NHS partners are: Barts Health NHS Trust, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust; ABM University Health Board, Swansea; University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

These key partners will act as Tissue Bank collection centres, adding samples of tissue, blood, urine and saliva from around 1,000 new patients each year.

“We’re already in discussions with more hospitals around the UK who are interested in becoming partner centres,” says Professor Kocher. “This underlines the determination of all those in the UK’s pancreatic cancer community to really pull together and drive progress.”

Professor Nick Lemoine, Director of Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL said: “This may well be the most important development in resourcing UK pancreatic cancer research in a generation. For such a relatively small charity to have the vision and determination to deliver such a huge and complex undertaking as a national tissue bank is remarkable and we’re proud to be hosting it at Barts Cancer Institute.”