The National Cancer Institute (NCI), in conjunction with a private foundation, is planning to launch a national tissue bank to ease researchers' access to cancer tissue samples. But the National Biospecimen Network (NBN), as it's called, has yet to attract funding, and some researchers doubt whether there's enough scientific interest in the proposed collection to warrant the investment.
Many institutions, including large academic cancer centers, house tissue banks that contain tumor samples. But standards for collecting and storing tissue vary, and physicians sometimes have trouble gaining access to samples from centers other than their own. NCI Director Andrew von Eschenbach announced plans to change that on 11 July at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. Together with the National Dialogue on Cancer--a foundation that von Eschenbach helped found in 1998, and on whose steering committee he still sits--NCI has assembled academics, industry officials, and activists to help it coordinate the launch of the tissue bank.
Much remains to be decided: whether the NBN will include all cancers, where it will be housed, and, most importantly, how it will be funded. NCI has not committed to footing the bill; later this month, the NBN design team--under the auspices of the National Dialogue on Cancer--will assemble to debate how to raise money. "I worry about this," says Carolyn Compton, a pathologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who's helping draw up the NBN blueprint. Other NCI-supported tissue banks are scrambling for funds, Comptom notes.
That's not the only concern. Harold Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, wonders whether there will be enough interest in a national tissue bank; often, researchers need to work closely with surgeons and pathologists to gather the samples they need, he says. Varmus is also concerned by the role of the National Dialogue on Cancer, a private group including former President George Bush and his wife that aims to end suffering and death from cancer. Von Eschenbach's role in the Dialogue has raised eyebrows in the past (Science, 24 May 2002, 1395).
National Dialogue on Cancer