Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Labs


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.

What is it Like to Donate?

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 so they 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.

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. Dr. 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.