Biobanking - collecting information to help future diagnosis and treatment

What is a biobank?

Biobanking is when patients allow extra tissue that has been removed during an operation, biopsy or blood test to be collected or stored. This extra material, not needed for diagnosis or treatment, is analysed by scientists to find better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Human tissue donated for medical research can include:

  • tissues/cells (cancerous and normal) from organs, bone marrow or blood
  • other fluids from the body, such as urine.

Along with the extra tissue, the biobank also collects relevant information about each patient and their diagnosis.

Why are biobanks important?

Biobanks help scientists answer important questions about why conditions occur and who is at risk. The answers to these questions can lead to earlier, more accurate diagnosis and better treatment.

Biobanks and cancer

Within our cancer services, we have a well-established tradition of biobanking. We are licensed by the Human Tissue Authority to collect, store and provide samples to scientists researching the causes and treatments of cancer.

We want to enhance our resources to include different type of cancer. These are essential to understand what causes cancer and which treatment options are likely to be effective.

We aim to collect surplus tissue and blood samples from all patients who attend our hospitals and have a diagnosis or possible diagnosis of cancer.

If patients consent, samples including tumours and healthy tissue are collected. Data about the individual such as their family history, lifestyle and genetic make-up is also gathered and stored by the Biobank.

The samples and data can then be used for research studies aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of different cancers. More than 300 studies using Biobank resources have been published in scientific journals, including studies into the benefits of using genetic information to classify breast cancers.

Inside the Cancer Biobank

The Cancer Biobank at Guy’s Hospital is run by King’s College London on behalf of the Trust. It has around 40,000 samples from around 17,000 patients. A team of 12 staff look after the Biobank and make sure that the samples and data are of the highest possible quality.

 Dr Cheryl Gillett, Head of Biobanking, looks through data records in the Cancer Biobank.  
Dr Cheryl Gillett, Head of Biobanking, looks
through data records in the Cancer Biobank.

Dr Cheryl Gillett, King’s College London Head of Biobanking, says: “The Cancer Biobank is a resource which helps researchers find better diagnoses and treatments for patients. We want to give researchers the best possible resource, so that they can do good science which can be translated into better patient care.”

The Cancer Biobank has samples and data for six cancer types – including for breast, head and neck and lung cancers. The breast cancer resource is the largest, dating back to the 1970s and is one of the largest in the country.