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Cancer Science Evolves, One Consent Form at a Time

Patients Can Advance Innovative Research Through the Cedars-Sinai Biobank

Los Angeles - Dec. 2, 2013 –Tucked away in freezers chilled to minus 80 degrees Celsius are blood and tissue samples from Cedars-Sinai patients. The freezers that hold these samples also contain the hopes of investigators determined to uncover new treatments for cancer patients across the globe.

As cancer research continues to evolve, scientists rely on specimen samples, such as tissue, blood or urine, from generous patients to advance discoveries and personalize care. Biobanks, like the state-of-the-art biobank at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, allow patients to make invaluable contributions to medical research and treatment advances that may ultimately be the solution to their own diagnosis or disease down the road, said Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, medical director of the biobank and director of Translational Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, utilizes specimens from the Cedars-Sinai biobank on a recent research project.

“Our intention is for the Cedars-Sinai Biobank to give our patients a resource that allows them to play a significant role in developing new cancer treatments and to give our investigators a resource to help them develop those new treatments,” Knudsen said.

In addition to patients making a lifelong contribution to research, the Cedars-Sinai Biobank provides scientists with biospecimens for research, pathology services and digital image analysis tools to perform tissue experiments. Investigators are encouraged to make a custom collection request, based on specific research needs, which will ultimately advance existing or new research projects. Collections to date have focused on urologic malignancies, however, expansion to other disease groups is underway. Patients, after signing a consent form, provide a blood sample from each routine visit and provide tissue samples that would normally be discarded from surgical procedures.

“The patients who generously provide samples to the biobank are really the unsung heroes of medical research,” explained Knudsen. “Because of these patients, we can arm investigators with necessary resources so they can translate laboratory discoveries into patient care in the most expedited way.”

For patient Ronald Hitchcock, 57, donating blood and tissue samples to the biobank made him feel empowered – no small feat in the face of a cancer diagnosis, he said. After learning that he had prostate cancer, he decided to join the fight against the disease.

After doctors monitored his prostate cancer for three years, Hitchcock’s disease began to advance. His urologic oncologist, Hyung Lae Kim, MD, co-medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program, associate director for surgical research at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute and director of Urologic Academic Programs, suggested a radical prostatectomy — the surgical removal of the prostate.

Part of Kim’s conversation about prostatectomy included the potential of Hitchcock contributing to the Cedars-Sinai Biobank to help advance prostate cancer research. Hitchcock, whose wife has participated in clinical research in the past, was familiar with the many benefits his tissue sample could provide.

When patients like Hitchcock donate to the biobank, investigators may be able to use the samples to help them predict, diagnose, treat or possibly find a cure for diseases, such as cancer, explained Kim.

“The conversation about donating to the biobank was straightforward,” said Hitchcock. “The consent form highlighted the most important information I needed to know, including how my samples would be collected, how they would be used and how they would be confidentially maintained. Dr. Kim explained to me that the “potential impacts are endless.”

These discoveries could include the tailoring of treatments to individual patients, determining effective dosing, predicting the risk of disease and detecting diseases earlier. They are discoveries that Hitchcock is proud to be a part of.

“It is the responsibility of each person to create a legacy,” said Hitchcock. “The simple act of donating to the biobank can truly impact generations to come; it’s empowering.”

And, it’s an empowering act that will continue to be offered at Cedars-Sinai. Steven Piantadosi, MD, PhD, director of the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, explains the biobank program as a “win-win” for medical research.

“The risk to participate is low to participants and the benefits are extremely high to the medical community utilizing the many elements of the biobank,” said Piantadosi, who also serves as the Phase ONE Foundation Distinguished Chair. “Much of the tissue to be banked would otherwise be discarded, but with generous patient involvement, we have tangible and long-term resources for solving some of medicines toughest questions.”