When patients visit a doctor or hospital, they often leave something behind — tissue, skin, blood, urine.
University of Kentucky medical researchers would like to keep some of that tissue, used anonymously, for research.
Say, for example, a patient enters University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital to have a cancerous tumor removed. A pathologist needs to see the tumor for the patient's diagnosis, but harvesting it for later research would allow researchers to maintain enough material so if a researcher wanted to follow an idea about special properties within the cancer or methods of stopping its spread, he or she would have an easy, anonymous source of material.
Stanford University and the University of Kansas already maintain extensive tissue banks.
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The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center operates a smaller-scale bank, said Mark Evers, director of the center. The new push — which is taking place now — will expand researchers' ability to get at other diseases that plague Kentuckians, such as obesity and diabetes.
He cited a new cancer journal report that noted Kentucky remains number one in cancer incidence and cancer mortality.
"About half of our patient population comes from Eastern Kentucky," Evers said. "This is going to be really important for us not only for cancer, but for obesity and diabetes. Having those samples will allow us to look at a lot of different aspects."
For example, detecting an important protein in colon cancer cases could be aided by having an extensive tissue bank on hand, Evers said.
Having available tissue for research "helps future generations," Evers said. Having a broader way to collect such tissue "means we're going to be able to capture a lot more tissues and blood samples."
"Huge progress has been made" because of donations from breast cancer patients, Evers said. He said that he wished that all cancer patients could see the benefits of the generosity of the breast cancer patients: "It helps future generations." he said.
The University of Kentucky tissue bank consent process will operate like this: When a patient checks in to Kentucky Clinic or the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital, the registrar will offer the patient a consent form for tissue donation while collecting other information.
Philip Kern, director of the Barnstable Brown Kentucky Diabetes and Obesity Center and of the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, said that in early use of the system, 85 percent of patients have consented.
That consent covers all of the patients' treatments at UK; additional tissue can then be taken from various procedures without an additional consent form being signed.
During the patients' procedures, no additional tissue is harvested for research beyond that being used for diagnosis. In fact, Evers said, much of the tissue that comes from medical procedures is unusable for research, so it's a select amount of tissue that will make it through to researchers.
"We clearly can't collect every single sample of tissue," Kern said.