Spanish researchers open first biobank for living human brain samples
Spanish researchers have created the world’s first biobank of living brain tissue collected from patients with metastatic brain cancer. The biobank provides a library of samples upon which research can be done and drugs tested, with the data collected made available to the international scientific community.
Research into brain cancers and testing drugs for the treatment of them usually involves the use of experimental models, including mice. It’s not until a major discovery is made that the search for patient samples begins, and then begins the process of confirming the discovery in humans.
Finding the necessary number of human samples can be time-consuming and usually requires researchers to liaise with other institutions and comply with legal and ethical requirements. But, researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) have devised a solution: a repository of living samples from patients with brain metastases.
The living repository, or biobank, is part of RENACER, an acronym for the National Brain Metastasis Network and, fittingly, the Spanish word for ‘rebirth’. When a patient with brain metastasis attends one of RENACER’s network of 18 hospitals for surgery, they can donate a tiny part of their brain to the biobank.
Because the cells are kept alive, they can be studied for their response to specific drugs, paving the way to create individual patient ‘avatars’ by which the most appropriate and effective treatment can be identified. But, beyond collecting tissue samples, RENACER has used RNA and exosome sequencing to profile over 150 brain metastases. The collected data is put into a database open to the international scientific community.
“Research contracts have been already signed to exploit patient-derived organotypic cultures (PDOCs) as avatars, thus providing the possibility to generate biomarkers of sensitivity or resistance to specific drugs,” said Manuel Valiente and Eva Ortega-Paíno, the study’s authors.
An organotypic culture system allows for the growth of complex biological tissues in a way that replicates part of their normal physiology and function. But ensuring the tissue stays ‘alive’ involves a sophisticated logistics chain. Once removed from the patient, it's taken from the operating theater in a special container containing a culture medium, maintained at a temperature between 39.2 °F and 46.4 °F (4 °C and 8 °C). The tissue must reach the biobank in less than 24 hours. Once there, it’s processed and organotypic cultures are created, and they are divided into parts that are stored as samples for future investigations.
The researchers are already seeing benefits from RENACER.
“Since RENACER is associated with a network of hospitals, these research findings can be quickly translated into further clinical studies,” they said. “Indeed, a biomarker compatible with liquid biopsy that was initially discovered in experimental models is now part of a prospective multi-institutional study to evaluate it as a non-invasive strategy to predict the response to radiotherapy.”
The researchers plan to investigate ways of improving RENACER. For instance, incorporating brain imaging and neurocognitive evaluations as a way of obtaining a more comprehensive picture of relevant aspects of disease and/or responses to treatment. And the network may be useful beyond the brain.
“While RENACER is currently focused on the brain, patients with brain metastases have disseminated disease affecting other organs,” the researchers said. “Therefore, it would be ideal to collaborate with other networks specialized in extracranial metastases. As cancer patients continue to die mainly due to disseminated disease, we consider that the development of such an approach is crucial to bring personalized medicine to metastatic disease and not only the primary tumor.”
The study was published in the journal Trends in Cancer.