Down on the Farm…the Freezer Farm.
The sight is impressive – 65 giant freezers, chilled by liquid nitrogen, each carrying more than 30,000 tiny pieces of precious cargo. Samples of tumor, blood and tissue collected from nearly every child (and many adults) diagnosed with cancer in America in the last three decades.
These samples have been shipped from across the country (and from as far away as Australia) to the Biopathology Center at Nationwide Children’s – more than 1,000 each day – to be processed, cataloged, stored and most importantly, made available to scientists and cancer researchers across the world. Welcome to our Tissue Bank.
One of only a handful such centers of its kind, Nationwide Children’s serves as the pediatric division for Cooperative Human Tissue Network and is internationally recognized as a leader in the field. What began with pediatric cancer has grown to include many types of adult cancer banking as research teams seek our Center’s expertise. In fact, Nationwide Children’s was selected by the National Cancer Institute to process all the samples for the Cancer Genome Atlas Project – a massive effort to map the genetic roots of our most common cancers – such as breast and lung.
This is a busy place – Fed Ex packages arrive en masse and are sorted by staff based on which “sponsor” they belong to. Samples arrive chilled, frozen on dry ice or sealed in paraffin wax blocks. Staff carefully unpack and process the specimens for storage. Some materials go to the freezer farm for storage and paraffin blocks are sliced wafer-thin to make slides for view under a microscope.
As deliveries arrive, samples are also shipped out and scans of microscope slides are shared digitally across the globe. One sample of tissue can support multiple research projects and every sample is stored indefinitely.
Our team also helps confirm pediatric cancer diagnoses. Select samples are rushed to Nationwide Children’s pathologists who examine them to help confirm type, staging of cancer and determine the best treatment protocol.
So why does Nationwide Children’s have a tissue bank and why is it so important? Tissue banking is key to the future of cancer discoveries. Now that we are studying cancer at a genetic level, scientists are learning that one type of cure does not cure all – even within a single type of cancer. Treatment should be “personalized” based on the specific genetic make-up of a cancer. This is where cancer treatment is going and we’re excited to be on the forefront.
The Bank expects to add six new freezers this year. That’s nearly 200,000 samples , most from children and adults diagnosed with cancer. I will be glad when we don’t need “Freezer Farms,” but for now I’m happy that our hospital is helping more researchers find more cures.