Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research

Komen Tissue Bank

Indiana University School of Medicine and the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center are home to the world’s only biorepository – or bank – of healthy breast tissue. The tissue is donated by selfless women without cancer who voluntarily undergo a breast biopsy.

Tissue Donors

Donating tissue gives women the chance to participate in research in a way not typically possible and to battle back against a disease that often leaves them feeling vulnerable and helpless. The tissue donation process involves a surgeon using a needle to withdraw tissue about the size of two peas from an area numbed by a local anesthetic. A small blood sample is also collected from each donor. Each tissue sample is richly annotated with information about the donor’s height, weight, family history, overall health, ethnicity and other factors that may be useful to scientists. Donors are rewarded by the knowledge that they are aiding in vital research. Schedule an appointment to donate or join the Interested Donor List.

What is it Like to Donate?

Breast Tissue Donation FAQ

As each tissue donor is different; no two donation experiences will be exactly alike. The following FAQs are answered based on feedback from Komen Tissue Bank donors:

For the purposes of this study, a woman is healthy if she shows no sign of breast cancer. To be eligible to donate, she:

  • must be a biological female
  • must be at least 18 years of age
  • must have the ability to understand and the willingness to sign an informed consent document
  • must not have breast implants
  • must not be allergic to local anesthetics, such as lidocaine
  • must not be receiving any therapeutic blood thinner stronger than aspirin
  • must not have ever had radiation to the chest (i.e. as treatment for lung or other cancers)

Please note: breast cancer survivors may donate to the Komen Tissue Bank but only if the above criteria are met and they have one completely unaffected breast.

There are differing levels of discomfort. Most women report not experiencing much pain. There may be a slight stinging sensation when the lidocaine (local anesthetic) is administered.

The tissue is collected using a vacuum-assist device, which uses a needle and air. This device will remove all three tissue cores in quick succession.

The sample is taken from the upper, outer quadrant of the breast near the armpit.

  • Your skin will be cleaned and numbed with lidocaine.
  • The physician makes a small incision using a scalpel, and the needle is inserted into the incision.
  • Several sample cores are removed from the breast (approximately the size of three small peas).
  • A nurse or surgical assistant holds pressure on the incision for 10 minutes and then applies a pressure bandage.
  • The donor will be given an ice pack to put inside their bra.

Everyone has a different experience with bruising, ranging from not at all to quite a bit. There may be minimal scarring, but it often so small or faint that it is barely visible.

If you are taking any medications, please bring a list of them with you. There is no need for any particular type of ID or other paperwork. You may find it more comfortable to wear a sports bra as it will make it easier to insert the ice pack post-procedure. If applicable, please bring contact information for your mammogram provider (you will be asked to allow the tissue bank to request a copy of your mammogram on your behalf). Please note: the request for a mammogram only applied if you have had, or intend in the near future to have, a mammogram. Submission of a mammogram is not a prerequisite for tissue donation.

As long as you refrain from strenuous activities such as heavy lifting or hard physical activity, it is fine to immediately resume to regular activities. You may resume working out and playing sports after 24 hours.

There is no upper age limit. Anyone who fulfills donor qualifications may donate; however, please be sure to pay special attention to the parameters involving mental acuity.

If you wish, you may donate a second time. In order to allow others to participate in the donation process, at the time individuals are being held to a total limit of two tissue donations.

Yes but only if you have an unaffected breast.

No. The Komen Tissue Bank follows a strict protocol, which governs how, and from whom our tissue is collected. In addition, our standard operating procedures outline in exact detail how the disuse and blood samples must be processed. As we would be incapable of ensuring that these regulations would be enacted, the Komen Tissue Bank is unable to accept donations of tissue from breast reduction procedures.

These published manuscripts have all been produced by researchers who have used samples from the Komen Tissue Bank.

Tissue Use in Research

Breast cancer is not a single disease but rather a group of diseases with different biologies that affect each woman differently and may develop for different reasons. For this reason, the tissue bank collects and makes available healthy tissue from women of diverse backgrounds at every stage in their lives.

Using the online Virtual Tissue Bank, researchers can easily search for and then request tissue from women of all races and ethnic backgrounds; old and young; thin and obese; those who had no children, one child or many children; women who have been through menopause and ones who have not; those with a family history of breast cancer and those whose family has not been touched by the disease.

The tissue bank has been utilized by international experts from institutions such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Royal Marsden Hospital, Mayo Clinic, and the National Cancer Institute. In exchange, the researchers must agree to return their data to IU School of Medicine so the information can be widely shared. The goal is to eliminate duplication of effort and expense and to hasten the discovery of a cure.

But it is not only well-known and well-established researchers who can mine the tissue samples. The Virtual Tissue Bank allows anyone with a computer and an idea to conduct promising experiments involving healthy breast tissue – regardless of whether that be a researcher at Harvard or a high school science whiz half way around the world. Digital molecular data about samples are uploaded to a secure, user-friendly website. Through data mining and analysis tools, investigators may be able to answer important questions in breast cancer research without ever touching a tissue specimen.

Precision Health Initiative

As part of the Precision Health Initiative, updates have been made to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer and Komen Tissue Bank Normal Samples Protocol to increase healthy and diseased tissue donation for research and deep characterization by the bioinformatics pillar and eventual storage in the data commons. The updates which have been submitted to the IRB for review and approval include adding an e-consent option and moving up conversations about research tissue donation to occur as part of the pre-surgery consult instead of day of surgery, which is current practice.

Fast Facts

More than 5,000 women have donated breast tissue since the bank was established in 2007. In all, more than 10,000 women also have donated DNA and blood to the tissue bank. Those donors represent 45 states and the District of Columbia. Twenty-five percent of the donors represent minority populations.

There have been more than 30 breast tissue collection events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, California and Texas. The tissue bank hosts a breast tissue collection in New York in November. In 2018, a breast tissue collection will be held in Arizona.

The tissue bank is a resource to investigators around the globe. Researchers from Purdue University, Mayo Clinic, the NCI, Yale University, Dartmouth College, Dana-Farber/Harvard University, Breakthrough Research Centre at The Royal Marsden Hospital (UK) and the University of Queensland in Australia have tapped into the bank. In all, researchers have used tissue samples for 117 research projects. More than 30 manuscripts have published research in which tissue bank samples were used.

Anna Maria Storniolo, MD, is the executive director of the Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center tissue bank. Storniolo is a professor of clinical medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a physician scientist at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis.

Media Coverage

To request a media interview about the Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center, email Michael Schug or call 317-278-0953.