San Antonio is now home to what could be the only tumor bank open to cancer researchers around the world.
South Texas Accelerated Research Therapeutics is building up a collection of cancer tumors that beginning this week will be available for sampling to help fight cancer.
Most tumor banks — with tumors donated by patients — are at universities and generally limited to use by each institution's researchers, said Dr. Anthony Tolcher, director of clinical research and founder of START.
START will aggressively accumulate tumors with the permission of patients, including acquiring biopsy samples that are kept in storage by hospitals for 10 years.
“This is a great way for patients who have a cancer to give their tumor to help find a cure,” Tolcher said.
He hopes to have 10,000 tumor samples in two years and eventually to build it into
When a researcher requests samples of certain tumor types, a sample a little more than 2 millimeters in diameter is taken from the tumor sealed in paraffin. Samples of up to 200 different tumors fit on a glass slide that is then mailed to the researcher, said Brianne Kaiser, manager of START's pharmacokinetics department.
One of the first people to donate is Bob Conger. The 55-year-old has suffered for eight years from colon cancer that has spread to his liver and a lung, but experimental chemotherapy seems to be helping.
“That was an easy decision” to donate, Conger said. “Cancer is one those things that affects everybody, your family and the people down the street. The tumor bank is just such a step in the right direction. I can't imagine anybody not doing it.”
START is a for-profit entity in the South Texas Medical Center, but Tolcher said the costs for researchers to acquire samples only will be enough to make the program sustainable.
The samples will be stored in START's current offices in the South Texas Medical Center. There will be plenty of room to expand when patient treatment functions move to a new 120,000-square-foot building opening nearby in December to house START and the affiliated South Texas Oncology & Hematology.
Cancer-care doctors throughout South Texas should educate patients on the benefits of donating tumor tissue to the bank, said Dr. Morton Kahlenberg, medical director for Surgical Oncology Associates of South Texas and director of the Baptist Cancer Center at Baptist Health System.
The last tumor bank in San Antonio contained breast cancer samples and left the Cancer Therapy and Research Center along with researcher Dr. Kent Osbourne for Houston. Most of those samples were lost in the flood of 2000. A sample from that tumor bank earlier had helped a California researcher develop drugs that improved the survival rate of women with a certain type of breast cancer.
“Without actual human cancer tissue to test, it is nearly impossible to predict who might benefit from new drugs as they become available,” said Dr. Robert Maki, an oncologist who deals with adult sarcoma at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
That lack of tissue samples often stifles the testing of great treatment ideas, Maki said.
“An open-access tissue bank is just the kind of resource needed to help spur research in common and rare cancers alike,” Maki said. “It will have an immediate positive impact on cancer research now and well into the future.”