Whilst treatments for brain cancer are improving these do not work well in all patients. 

This is partly because each patient’s cancer can behave very differently, and even the cancer cells within each cancer are different from each other. Studying individual patients’ cancers is a very powerful way to unlock clues to improve brain cancer treatment.

To study individual patients’ cancers, they must be carefully collected at the time of surgery. Donating cancer samples at the time of surgery is a proactive, empowering and valuable act that every patient can make to improve cancer research. This is called "biobanking". Biobanking is time consuming and often costly for scientists, so one way we can help brain cancer research is to store cancers in a “biobank”.

A biobank is a collection of human tissues with related clinical data. Prospectively and systematically collecting consenting patients’ samples is the goal of biobanking. Biobank specimens and anonymous clinical information are then made available to scientific and medical researchers who require samples to conduct their research into the causes, development, diagnosis and most importantly, successful treatment of cancer.

The Hunter Cancer Biobank (HCB), located at HMRI, was established in 2012 to meet the growing needs of local cancer research, and provides our local highly respected researchers with high quality tissues, free of charge, allowing them to conduct state of the art research into all types of cancer. The HCB collects a range of tumours from adult patients having cancer-related surgery in the Hunter New England region. Only excess tissue (that is not required for a patient’s diagnosis and treatment) is stored in the HCB; this tissue would otherwise be discarded. The HCB currently has over 3300 tumour samples, and with the help of the Mark Hughes Foundation we hope to bank cancer and blood samples from every consenting patient to build a comprehensive brain cancer Biobank. 

Rapid scientific advances now allow detection of tiny traces of patients’ cancers within blood. This may be free floating cancer cells but can also be fragments of the aberrant messages that cause cancer, the mutated DNA. White blood cells can also be saved so that immune responses to cancer can be examined. We will augment biobanking for brain cancer patients by also requesting consent to bank patients’ blood samples at multiple clinically relevant time-points during their cancer surgery and treatment; e.g. before, during and after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments and in follow-up. 

Banking blood as well as cancer samples adds extraordinary power and utility but some complexity to the biobanking process, so we are very grateful to have this opportunity to seek the support of the Mark Hughes Foundation to bring this state-of-the-art translational cancer research resource to the Hunter New England region.

The establishment of the Mark Hughes Foundation Brain Cancer Biobank will allow researchers in the Hunter New England region, New South Wales and Australia to address a multitude of questions related to brain cancer, especially questions that could not be addressed without such a valuable translational research resource. Important questions to explore could include; can a patient’s cancer gene mutations be detected before surgery? Can this information then be used to help guide treatment? Does the pattern of mutations influence the benefit of radiation? Should chemotherapy - and which type -be given earlier?

This project is funded by the supporters of the Mark Hughes Foundation.

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