Why do we need the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank?

When asked about the greatest challenges faced by breast cancer research, leading scientists told us that a lack of access to high-quality tissue was a major problem. We were determined to solve this and so we set up the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank.

Scientists need to be able to study breast tissue samples, breast cells and blood from patients to understand how breast cancer behaves, grows and spreads. It is important for breast cancer cells and tissues to be compared with non-cancerous cells and tissues from the breast. This is why we collect from patients without a diagnosis of breast cancer as well.

Breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK; every year over 55,000 women and around 350 men will be diagnosed and around 11,500 women and 80 men will lose their lives to the disease. By consistently collecting and storing breast cancer samples, we can give scientists access to the tissue they need, making research faster and more reliable and bringing greater benefits to patients.

Tissue Bank Facts

Established: 2010 (opened formally in 2012)

Number of samples: 52,000

Tissue Bank centres:

How does the Tissue Bank work?

We have four dedicated Tissue Bank Centres, licensed by the Human Tissue Authority, who routinely collect, process and store samples from patients both with breast cancer and those without the disease.

Scientists can apply to the Tissue Bank for a range of different samples; including breast tissue, cells, and blood; applications are assessed by our Tissue Access Committee, to ensure the research proposed is original and of high quality.

We also provide anonymised data linked to each sample, such as tumour grade and stage, response to treatment and survival. Through our bioinformatics portal we provide researchers with open access to a wealth of data on breast cancer research, helping scientists across the globe access and analyse publically available data sets.

How your tissue is helping research

Samples from the Tissue Bank are being used to study many different aspects of breast cancer, such as identifying 'biomarkers' to predict how a patient will respond to treatment, broadening our understanding of the role of hormones and genetics in breast cancer and helping the development of new techniques to make surgery more accurate.

What has the Tissue Bank found so far?

Since it was established in 2010, the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank has collected over 52,000 samples from over 12,000 patients, which are now available to researchers. Over 10,000 of these samples have already been allocated to research projects.

We’re already seeing the impact of the Tissue Bank on breast cancer research and how the availability of tissue samples is helping us to better understand and develop more effective treatments for breast cancer.

So far, scientists at the University of York have used tissue samples to identify a protein, known as a voltage gated sodium channel, which has a role in encouraging breast cancer to grow and spread to form secondary tumours. Researchers at the University of Leeds have also used tissue samples to create a 3D ‘model’ of the breast, which can be used to study how breast cancer develops.

Researchers at the Bart’s Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, used healthy cells donated to the Tissue Bank to recreate a structure closely resembling breast ducts in the lab. The researchers are using this 3D cell model to study early breast cancer. Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, or DCIS, is an early tumour that is confined to the ducts of the breast tissue, and researchers are looking for ways to find out which DCIS cases are harmless, and which ones will progress into invasive cancers that require treatment. The use of healthy, non-cancerous patient samples from the Tissue Bank allows researchers to study how DCIS occurs in the first place.

How can I donate my breast tissue?

Donating tissue and blood to the Tissue Bank is voluntary. If you are having surgery in one of our Tissue Bank Centres (listed above), a nurse or patient volunteer may ask if you are willing to donate any tissue and answer any questions you may have about the process.

Giving consent to donating your tissue (or withholding it) will not affect your care or treatment in any way, and your details will remain strictly confidential.

We are extremely grateful to everyone who gives their permission for us to keep a small amount of their tissue, which is not needed to help plan their treatment and care.

Unfortunately, we cannot accept donations of tissue to the Tissue Bank if you are not being treated at a Tissue Bank Centre.

If you are interested in participating in research, please speak to your nurse or doctor as there may be other studies that you are able to participate in.

We still need your support

The Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank is generously supported by funding from Asda Tickled Pink and the Garfield Weston Foundation. We would also like to acknowledge the past support of Walk the Walk, a founding partner of the Tissue Bank alongside Asda Tickled Pink.

We still need further support and donations to keep investing in projects like the Tissue Bank – please donate now.

More Information

Are you a researcher interested in applying for samples? Find out more on the Tissue Bank website.