Find out the history of the Tissue Bank and our work. 

What is the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank?

The Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank is the UK’s largest unique collection of high-quality breast tissue, breast cells and blood samples from breast cancer patients. These samples are made available to researchers to give them the ability to study real breast cancer samples from different angles.

To date, it has collected over 129,000 samples and has already allocated over 10,000 samples to research projects.

Are you a researcher interested in using Tissue Bank samples in your research? Find out more

Why do we need the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank?

We asked leading scientists about the greatest challenges faced by breast cancer research. They told us that a lack of access to high-quality tissue to study and better understand the disease was a major problem. We were determined to solve this and set up the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank in 2010. It formally opened in 2012.

Now, the Tissue Bank allows scientists to study breast tissue samples, breast cells and blood from patients to understand how breast cancer acts, grows and spreads. It is also important to compare breast cancer cells and tissues to healthy cells and tissues from the breast. This is why the Tissue Bank also collects samples from people without breast cancer.

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 people affected by breast cancer.

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 people with breast cancer and those without the disease. Our Tissue Bank Centres are based in London, Aberdeen, Norwich and Sheffield.

Scientists from across the globe can apply to access samples from the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank for their research. Each sample is linked to anonymised data specifying tumour type and grade, any treatment the patient received, and in some cases, the course of the disease.

All applications are assessed by our Tissue Access Committee. It helps to ensure that every tissue sample contributes to research which will advance our knowledge of the disease.

Tissue Access Committee

Our Tissue Access Committee reviews each application for samples to ensure that the samples are used for good-quality research. For each application Breast Cancer Now and the Tissue Access Committee will ask the following questions:

  • Does the research have the potential to benefit breast cancer patients? Are there any significant risks to releasing the samples?
  • Has the project for which samples will be used been peer-reviewed by an AMRC-registered charity or equivalent?
  • Is ethical cover in place for the work?
  • Will the application significantly deplete the Tissue Bank's sample stock?

The Chair of the Access Committee is Dr Julia Gee, Cardiff University.

Tissue Bank Advisory Council

The Tissue Bank Advisory Council advises on the scientific strategy of the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank and its implementation. The council comprises of patients, leading scientists, researchers, and bioinformaticians from the breast cancer and biobanking fields worldwide.

The Chair of the Tissue Bank Advisory Council is Professor Richard Clarkson, Cardiff University.

What has the Tissue Bank achieved so far?

Since it was established over ten years ago, the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank has collected over 129,000 samples from almost 10,000 patients. These samples are now available to researchers. Over 12,000 of these samples have already been allocated to research projects. And we’re already seeing the impact.

  • Scientists from Queen Mary University of London and the Francis Crick Institute used samples from the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank to better understand how obesity can contribute to the development of breast cancer at a molecular level. This helped them 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. Researchers think this finding could eventually lead to a diagnostic tool for breast cancer.
  • Tissue Bank samples have contributed to research at Imperial College London, which discovered that the presence of chemical tags on cancer DNA may indicate how oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) tumours will respond to treatment.
  • 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 now using this 3D model to study an early form of breast cancer.
  • Researchers at the University of Leeds used Tissue Bank samples to look for genetic differences between breast cancer cells in men and women. They found that a specific family of genes is more active in men. The researchers also discovered that higher levels of two proteins, called eIF4E and eIF5, in men with breast cancer are lined to a poorer chance of survival. This knowledge may aid the development of tests to help doctors prescribe the most suitable treatment for men with breast cancer.

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 (in London, Aberdeen, Norwich or Sheffield), a nurse or patient volunteer may ask if you are willing to donate any tissue. They will be able to answer any questions you may have about the process.

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.

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.

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

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