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Research on Leftover Breast Tissue Samples Provides Hope for a Cure

Have you ever wondered what happens to breast tissue after a biopsy? Some people are surprised to learn that it can be used to help develop treatments that bring new hope to other women with breast cancer. One of the tissue banks collecting this type of tissue just met a remarkable milestone.

Tissue banks are organizations that collect and store human tissue for research purposes. They then distribute the tissues to scientists who are working to develop new treatments or cures for many conditions, including breast cancer. These tissue samples play a critical role in research and development as medical researchers can use them to investigate root causes of disease and devise new treatments. For instance, donated tissues helped researchers discover the role that HER2 genes play in about 25 percent of breast cancer cases.

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The Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank, a tissue bank based in the United Kingdom, has received tissues from more than 10,000 donors, which is an unusual milestone. Many of their tissue samples, as well as those of other breast cancer tissue banks, come from leftover biopsy materials. Biopsies are an important part of diagnosing breast cancer. Typically, some tissue is left over after the pathologist is finished with the sample. This tissue can either be disposed of as medical waste, or the patient can give permission to donate it. The patient's decision has no bearing on her medical treatment, and she receives the same care regardless of her choice.

Large sample sizes are important for tissue banks because they let researchers conduct large surveys. Microarrays, which are made up of hundreds of samples lined up for easy comparison, let researchers note cell abnormalities that may either encourage or inhibit tumor growth. Large tissue banks also let students and researchers analyze rare forms of breast cancer that are otherwise difficult to study because of the low number of subjects available. Tissue banks also compile samples of healthy breast tissue for comparison purposes.


Tissue banking is a little-known practice that provides valuable insight for medical researchers. Learn more about it by watching this video.


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