Despite increased cancer research funding we need a much better cancer research infrastructure. For Irish cancer patients to benefit from the latest advances in molecular research, it is essential that fresh, frozen and paraffin-embedded human tissue specimens and blood are acquired prospectively with patient consent in the main cancer hospitals. Frozen and FFPE samples should be managed in a biobank, and released for approved basic research and clinically directed molecular pathology investigations. For the latter studies, coded data about the sample donors is essential.
The network hospital biobanks must collect samples using the same procedures and database. Online access to samples and data for potential projects will be a major advantage of linking Irish hospital biobanks in a network. It will facilitate current and future research consortia on a scale not possible now. It will broaden the scope of Irish collaborations with other international groups and industry.
An Irish Biobank Network will enhance or complement other aims of national cancer strategy: better information technology systems, communications, and a national research database. It will help connect hospitals and focus on patient care rather than on competing institutions. Other advantages: research efficiency and research quality, enhanced sample quality, coordinated access to samples by industry as well as academics, molecular studies on samples from clinical trials patients, and wider benefits to the economy due to job creation and increased industry involvement in R and D.
Examples of advances in patient care, derived from biobanked samples are: Glivec for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia and GIST (a rare gastrointestinal malignancy), anti-CD20 antibody treatment for malignant lymphoma, and Herceptin for aggressive breast cancer. Each of these treatments has significantly prolonged quality of life, by applying logically the knowledge of molecular cell processes to develop innovative, selective and in many cases, non-toxic cancer treatment.