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St. Michael’s opens new brain tumour tissue bank

Toronto, April 8, 2013

By Evelyne Jhung

An image of a brain tumour
An image of a brain tumour (image courtesy of Dr. David Munoz).

The diagnosis of glioblastoma, the most common adult brain tumour, usually means an average life expectancy of 14 months with therapy – not a favourable prognosis.

The opening of St. Michael’s new brain tumour tissue biobank promises greater hope for patients with brain tumours.

Dr. Sunit Das, a neurosurgeon and scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, has been spearheading the creation of the biobank since his arrival two years ago.

“St. Michael’s is a unique place,” he said. “We care for a large population of patients with brain tumours. We perform about 400 surgeries a year, which is on par with the largest U.S. hospitals-- and do so in a unique, centralized system for specialized care, giving us remarkable access to patient data. It’s this match of clinical outcomes data and patient tissues that will allow us to understand this disease.”

In addition, St. Michael’s is home to two dedicated neuropathologists– Drs. David Munoz, head of the Division of Pathology and a Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute adjunct scientist, and Jason Karamchandani, director of the Immunopathology Laboratory and a Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute scientist.

“Neuropathologists are crucial in ensuring that tissue is properly collected, diagnosing, selecting areas for study, forming hypotheses of tumour development and progression, and performing procedures to test these hypotheses,” said Dr. Munoz.

This confluence of factors, including recently obtaining funding from the hospital and University of Toronto, is how St. Michael’s brain biobank has come to be, and will help serve researchers seeking to improve outcomes for patients with brain tumours.

“It’s imperative we study and understand the biology of these tumours,” said Dr. Das. “We also need to create models of what we’re seeing so that we can see how these tumours differ from each other at the molecular level. We know some patients with brain cancer do better than others and respond better to certain therapies, and that this diversity is due to the difference in the biology of individual tumours. So we want to look at tailoring treatments, because we have drugs that work, we just have to find the right drug.”

St. Michael’s brain tumour biobank will house clinical information about patients and frozen tissues to harvest RNA, DNA and protein, as well as a living tumour repository of patient-specific cancer stem cells. These cells are what drive tumour growth and progression.

"Having access to brain tumour tissue will be invaluable for us in understanding and being able to treat patients with brain tumours,” said Dr. Das.