Based at the UQ Centre for Clinical Research, the Brisbane Breast Bank was originally established by Professor Lakhani in 2005, with the aim of collecting a frozen tumour sample from every patient undergoing treatment at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

With financial support from UQ, QIMR Berghofer, the RBWH Foundation and Australasian Biospecimen Network, as well as the cooperation and goodwill of staff from Pathology Queensland, QML and Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology, the bank has been operating for over 10 years, and has become a valuable resource for breast cancer research in Australia and abroad.

Other researchers can apply to access BBB resources, but the research is conducted on a collaborative basis, rather than as a paid service for sample provision. Conducting the research in this way enables us to be true custodians of the biospecimens and clinical data, ensuring the most efficient and meaningful use of this finite resource, and compliance with National Human Research Ethics guidelines. Requests for research collaboration and clinical samples may also come to us via National and International biobanking groups with which we are affiliated:

  • The Australian Breast Cancer Tissue Bank (ABCTB)
  • The Australasian Biospecimens Network Association (ABNA)
  • Brain Cancer Biobanking Australia (BCBA)
  • The International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC)

The Brisbane Breast Bank represents critical national biomedical research infrastructure and is helping to increase the relevance of breast cancer research on an international scale.

It is now more important than ever to ensure its sustainability.

What is a tissue bank?

A tissue bank (biospecimen bank, or bio-bank) is a repository of biological samples (e.g. blood products, tumour tissue), linked to data relating to sample collection and clinical history, such as whether a patient’s cancer responded to a particular treatment.

Biospecimens can be stored for decades in a variety of formats (e.g. frozen, live cell cultures or formalin-fixed). Secondary biospecimens may also be derived to further enhance the value of the samples – byproducts commonly include genetic material (DNA, RNA), digitally archived images of tissue sections and even patient-derived tumour xenografts* (PDX).

Human breast tumour samples and their byproducts are pivotal to research – for example, validating findings from experimental systems, or correlating tumour features with cancer treatments and patient outcomes. Amassing large numbers of samples gives the statistical power needed to determine whether treatments are really working, and if so, allows us to predict which patients would be most responsive to a particular therapy. Personalising cancer treatment in this way is how researchers hope to make a greater impact on breast cancer in the future.

Biobanks can distribute de-identified samples and data to research teams anywhere in the world, helping to build a critical mass that is conducive to innovation, discovery and ultimately, improved healthcare.

Despite the importance of human samples in breast cancer research, infrastructure funding is limited and the procedures for banking patient material are not currently integrated into our healthcare system.

*when human tumour tissue from a surgical specimen is implanted into an immunodeficient mouse to create a live and replenishable source of tumour material for research, and to facilitate experimental testing (e.g. of new cancer therapies). PDX models are highly valued in breast cancer research and are providing critical efficacy and safetly information to help guide patient management in the future.

Sample collections

The Brisbane Breast Bank collects biospecimens from patients undergoing treatment at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, though patients undergoing surgery at other South East Queensland hospitals should discuss biobanking with their Surgeons and contact us if they wish to donate tissue, as alternative tissue collection arrangements are often possible.

The BBB Manager provides information on tissue donation to patients at the weekly RBWH breast unit pre-admission clinic, where breast care nurses are also present to discuss issues like rehabilitation after surgery. Patients can then take the information away and consider whether they would like to donate excess* tumour tissue, a blood sample, and make their sample identifiable* to tissue bank staff, so that it may be linked with appropriate clinical data such as treatment response. 

Breast tissue samples from patients undergoing reduction procedures are also collected as an essential source of non-cancerous ’control’ tissue. The 

Brisbane Breast Bank is also the central tissue processing site for the Brisbane node of the ‘BROCADE’ study.

If you are interested in donating tissue for research, please discuss this with your doctors, and contact us with any queries.

For more information and to donate, please contact: 

Kaltin Ferguson, Tissue Bank Manager
Email: k.ferguson2@uq.edu.au
Phone: +61 7 3346 6020

Outcomes

Tissues, secondary byproducts and data from the Brisbane Breast Bank have contributed to dozens of National and International studies, and impacted directly and indirectly on patient management. Here are a few examples:

  • More than 180 primary research papers published in the scientific literature. The networks, infrastructure and procedures established by the BBB have also paved the way for two cutting-edge clinical studies that are currently recruiting patients: Circ.Br and BROCADE.

  • Launched in 2008, the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) is a worldwide organisation with the primary goal of cataloguing all of the genetic alterations in the 50 most common human cancers, using high-resolution molecular profiling technologies like next-generation sequencing. It is hoped that this initiatve will reveal molecular subtypes of each cancer, clues about cancer development, and enable development of new therapies. The BBB contributed around 10% of the high quality breast tumour samples used in this groundbreaking study.

  • In 2014, the MBP team made a discovery that led to a Brisbane metastatic breast cancer patient being offered new treatments to improve the quality and duration of her life. Amanda had donated three secondary brain tumours to the BBB that were analysed as part of an ongoing research project. The study identified many potentially ‘targetable’ alterations in the donated tumour samples, but for the vast majority, the corresponding treatments had not yet been tested in clinical trials. Amanda’s situation was unique because the new treatments were already proven to be safe and effective, and doctors were able to offer them straight away. She defied all expectations and we are honoured that we were able to help her and her family. Read more about the story here, and the research paper here.