Royal London surgeon sets up world’s first national pancreatic cancer tissue bank

Prof Hemant Kocher setting up world's first national pancreatic cancer tissue bank

Prof Hemant Kocher setting up world's first national pancreatic cancer tissue bank - Credit: Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund

The world’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer is being set up at east London’s Queen Mary University to help find earlier diagnoses which could save thousands of lives in Britain every year.

The £2 million project is being led by a leading surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, Prof Hemant Kocher, a consultant in pancreas and liver diseases.

He is bringing together surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, researchers and database experts to co-ordinate a national—and ultimately international—resource to help develop new treatments.

“This is crucial to help researchers investigate new treatments for this most lethal cancer,” Prof Kocher said. “We can help only a small number of patients with surgery at present—there’s little we can offer for the majority who are diagnosed and those whose cancer returns even after surgery.”

The tissue bank is being set up at Queen Mary’s Barts Cancer Institute to store tissue from patients who are undergoing biopsy or surgery at hospitals in London, Oxford, Southampton, Leicester and Swansea.

It will store samples of pancreatic tumours as well as blood, saliva and urine samples, each logged with detailed medical and genetic information where possible, so that researchers can get exactly the right type of for their work.

“Many proteins associated with pancreatic cancer are also found in blood, urine and saliva,” Prof Kocher explains. “So having these materials from patients alongside the tissue samples helps to find ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage when it can be cured.”

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Surgery to remove a tumour offers the best chance of survival—but most patients are diagnosed too late, when the cancer has already spread to other organs.

Without surgery, the average survival time from diagnosis is six months.

The project is being funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund charity, whose founder Maggie Blanks said: “Researchers told us that progress was being held back by the scarcity of high-quality tissue samples on which they can test their ideas and validate their research.

“A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will ensure more samples become available that are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for research.”

Data generated by all research using tissue bank samples will be fed back into a database and be made available to the global research community to underpin their own work.

Barts Cancer Institute’s director, Prof Nick Lemoine, said: “This may well be the most important development in resourcing UK pancreatic cancer research in a generation.

“For such a relatively small charity to have the vision and determination to carry out such a huge and complex undertaking as a national tissue bank is remarkable.”

Around 8,800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Britain each year. Its survival rate of just three per cent, which has barely improved in 40 years.