MHF biobank an investment in brain cancer research

Oct 27 2014

Dr Craig Gedye and MHF brain cancer biobank coordinator Sarah Nielsen.

A new “biobank” for brain cancer research is being established at the Hunter Medical Research Institute courtesy of funding from the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF).

Blood and tissue samples donated by patients at various times in their brain cancer journey will be preserved at minus-150 degrees celsius, allowing researchers and clinicians to access them many years into the future as knowledge and technology evolve.

Oncologist and Clinical Research Fellow Dr Craig Gedye*, from the University of Newcastle and Calvary Mater Newcastle, believes the biobank will help build a broader and clearer understanding of the genetic nuances inherent in different cancers.

“In the bad old days we would invent a new cancer treatment, give it to 30 or 40 people, watch it fail most of the time and then discard that drug,” Dr Gedye said. “These days, however, we recognise that for small subsets of patients a targeted treatment can work incredibly well.

“It’s only when you are gifted a large resource of samples and data that researchers can actually address these kinds of issues. It’s knowing the many similarities and differences in cancer types that helps us predict which patients will benefit from certain treatments and what new therapies are worth considering.”

As an oncologist, Dr Gedye notes that cancers can change over time – they are a “moving target” that may return in an altered state from the original tumour. Keeping track of that change will enable researchers to deliver new and better diagnostic, prognostic and predictive biomarkers.

“We can start to figure out precisely what kind of cancer someone has, what that cancer is going to mean in terms of their life, how aggressive it is and what their likely treatment response will be. And as new research ideas arise, that’s when we can go back to the biobank and look for particular situations to investigate.”

The new facility will augment the existing Hunter Cancer Biobank (HCB) founded in 2012, where donated tissue not required for a patient’s diagnosis and treatment is collated; this tissue would otherwise be discarded.

“Donating cancer samples at the time of surgery is a powerful, proactive and valuable donation that every patient can make to improve brain cancer research,” MHF founder Mark Hughes said.

“The establishment of the Mark Hughes Foundation Brain Cancer Biobank will allow researchers to address a multitude of questions. To be able to fund such an important project is a great achievement in our first year for MHF … but this is only the beginning.”

Maintaining the brain cancer biobank will require support and consent from patients and surgeons alike, along with a program coordinator. The MHF funding will help tackle the task proficiently and ultimately contribute data for national and international studies, Dr Gedye adds.

“A large number of people come to our centres for treatment and it has been a challenge in the past to systematically collect specimens,” he said. “This biobank is a long-term investment and we’re grateful for the Mark Hughes Foundation’s vision.

“Among the many exciting things on the horizon is cancer immune therapy and we hope that brain cancers may be among those where these kinds of treatments are effective. It’s still very early days but the impacts they’re having on other kinds of cancer are sometimes breathtaking.”

Other members of the biobank project include HCB manager Dr Rick Thorne, geneticist Professor Rodney Scott and neurosurgeons Dr John Christie, Dr Richard Ferch, Dr Mitchell Hansen, Dr Philip Spittaler and Dr Michael Edger.

Donations to the Mark Hughes Foundation can be made at

* Dr Gedye is a Hunter Cancer Research Alliance Clinical Research Fellow, Staff Specialist at the Calvary Mater Newcastle Department of Medical Oncology and a member of the University of Newcastle’s School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Cancer Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.