Fifteen years ago, the Flint Animal Cancer Center started on the path to create one of the first on-site biorepositories in veterinary medicine. The project was spearheaded by medical oncologist, Dr. Sue Lana. Proper collection, processing, and storage were critical considerations when designing the program.
“Our focus from day one has been on collection and storage,” said Lana. “It was extremely important that the samples were handled in a way that would not affect the integrity of the DNA, RNA, and proteins. With safe handling, samples are available for decades.”
The goal was to build an archive that would serve the needs of Colorado State University cancer center researchers first and then scientists around the globe. At the time, scientists needed better access to a variety of tissue samples to take advantage of advances in molecular biology and to learn more about the life of cancer cells. The hope was to discover how cancer cells differed from normal cells and how they interacted with the cells around them with the goal of developing new treatment strategies.
Over the years, with owner consent, cancer center staff have collected and archived thousands of patient samples, including tumor, normal tissue, blood and other fluid samples to advance cancer research.
“When I joined the Flint Animal Cancer Center faculty in 2007, it was the first time I had access to patient samples,” said Dr. Dawn Duval, associate professor of molecular oncology. “It provided an opportunity to actually try to understand what was happening in real patients. Not only that, but the tumors were matched with blood, serum, plasma, and normal tissue samples from the same patient. So not only could I ask what was happening in the tumor, I could also ask how the patient’s body was responding and if those changes could be measured from a simple blood sample.”
One example of the importance of the biorepository has been in the study of osteosarcoma. “Since most human osteosarcoma patients are treated with chemotherapeutic drugs prior to surgery to remove the tumor, the tumors have been exposed to a lot of agents that change their biology and cause a lot of damage,” said Duval. “The standard of care for dogs is to remove the tumor first, so we have better samples to study, which has provided the opportunity to improve cancer treatment for both groups.”
Currently, the Flint Animal Cancer Center biorepository stores more than 26,600 tumor and normal tissue and fluid samples from canine and feline patients.
Industry partners and academic institutions from around the world have requested samples for study. More than half of the overall samples have been used by CSU scientists. Biorepository samples have been used for a variety of research purposes with some leading to publications in journals such as Cancer Research, Genome Research, and Veterinary Comparative Oncology.
“We have been working hard to make the tumor biorepository as useful as possible by checking in with researchers to make sure we are collecting the most important samples,” said Duval. “We were ahead of the curve in creating our program, but it is important that we continue to stay ahead of that curve moving forward, and that means investing additional resources to take advantage of the power of these samples.”
Vision for the Future
Thanks to an anonymous lead gift, Flint Animal Cancer Center faculty are excited to build the power of the biorepository for the next generation of discovery. Plans include investment in personnel to increase data collection and to build a robust database that can link all forms of information tied to a sample.
“The power of the biorepository is not just in the samples, but in linking the samples with patient information, including diagnosis, treatment, outcomes, successes, and failures, and also linking basic science research back to that sample,” said Lana. “Our vision is to have the complete package for every sample used.”
New investment will also allow the cancer center to take advantage of advances in sample collection techniques and facilitate the study of additional tumor types. According to Dr. Rod Page, director, Flint Animal Cancer Center, “Modernizing our biological collections, deriving new cell lines, and building a clinical data repository is a critical initiative for our future work to find solutions for better cancer diagnostics and therapy.”
To learn more about future plans for the biorepository or how you can support this initiative, please contact Lauren Mingus.