How Donating Healthy Tissue Today Can Help Beat Breast Cancer Tomorrow

Guest Post by Anna Maria Storniolo, MD
Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

We women know that we will rally to help others, regardless of the cause. And in the fight against breast cancer, we have seen time and again thousands of women walking, running, baking goods, and more to raise both funds and awareness of the disease. But would women do something even more extraordinary and very personal? Would women give us researchers a piece of themselves?

A woman donates to the Komen Tissue Bank.
A woman donates to the Komen Tissue Bank at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

To my amazement — and probably to the amazement of most of the research community — many women have done just that. Since 2007, nearly 4,000 women of all ages and races — grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, and wives — have selflessly donated breast tissue samples to the Komen Tissue Bank at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. In all, more than 10,000 women also have donated DNA and blood to the tissue bank.

Sabrina Williams, MD, is one such selfless woman. Like others, she has raised money and participated in many breast cancer walks and prayer vigils. However, she said the most meaningful experience for her was her recent decision to donate to the tissue bank. She especially wanted to do so to further research among African-American women.

Williams even brought along her 9-year-old daughter to show her the importance of giving back to research. “Giving a small part of me to help something so much bigger than myself was very gratifying and brought me to tears because I could be helping to save my daughter’s life,” she said of her experience.

The tissue bank is the only normal breast tissue bio-repository of its kind in the world. As such, it is uniquely positioned to characterize the molecular and genetic basis of normal breast development and compare it to the different types of breast cancer. The bank was established expressly for the acquisition of normal  tissues — breast tissue, epithelial and stromal cell lines, serum, plasma, and DNA — from volunteer donors with no clinical evidence of breast disease and/or malignancy, providing a resource to investigators around the globe.

By using samples from women without breast cancer, we researchers will be able to determine the differences between healthy and cancerous tissues, which will lead to a better understanding of the disease.

How does it work? During the donation process, a tissue sample is taken from one breast with local anesthesia and a needle. The amount of tissue taken is about 1 gram (or the size of two peas). A trained surgeon or radiologist performs a core needle biopsy with an ATEC vacuum-assisted device. The samples are processed immediately on-site to ensure consistent and high quality samples.

The tissue bank is a resource to investigators around the globe. Colleagues from Purdue University, Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute, 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 already tapped into the bank.

More information

Learn more about the Komen Tissue Bank at Information on sample availability, standard operating procedures, pricing, and how to apply for samples is available under the “researchers” tab.

You can also visit the Virtual Tissue Bank (VTB) where raw data have been returned from research already conducted and are linked to donor barcodes and medical history annotation.

Contact us at or 317-278-2829. Our goal is to get these samples into the hands of researchers to help speed the understanding of normal and thus what leads to cancer. Together with your help, we’ll continue to make progress against this disease.

Anna Maria Storniolo, MD
Anna Maria Storniolo, MD

Anna Maria Storniolo, MD, is professor of clinical medicine in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and a breast cancer researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. She is also executive director of the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center.

Previously, Storniolo was an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. She also served in various leadership positions at Eli Lilly and Co., where she was responsible for the clinical development of various cancer drugs, notably Gemzar.

Storniolo is also director of the Catherine Peachey Breast Cancer Prevention Program, where she provides individual risk assessment and counseling for women who may be at risk for developing breast cancer.

She has been a member of the American Association for Cancer Research since 1995.

She earned her medical degree at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, and completed her internal medicine residency and fellowships in both hematology and medical oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, New York. 


All photos courtesy of Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

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