Patients being treated for cancer today may benefit from personalized treatments that will become available in the future. To be ready for these possibilities, Rush is greatly expanding its biorepository of tissue samples taken from cancer patients. (A biorepository is a facility that collects, catalogs, and stores samples of biological material for laboratory research.)
The expansion is being made in collaboration with the technology company Tempus, which will house the biorepository at its headquarters in Chicago’s River North neighborhood beginning this summer. This project builds on Rush’s existing partnership with Tempus, which provides genetic analysis of Rush cancer patients that helps inform their doctors’ treatment decisions.
The Rush Department of Pathology processes more than 1,000 cancer specimens annually, and this number is likely to increase with the growth in Rush’s cancer program. Patient tissue samples are stored in a deep freeze and can be used later for new tests as they become available to determine if the patient may benefit from new treatments.
Advances in genetic science and cancer care are increasingly enabling researchers and clinicians to design treatments for cancer that specifically target genetic mutations that can play a role in the development of disease. Taking advantage of this advance in biotechnology, Tempus can analyze the relevant genes of a patient using simple blood and tissue samples, looking at up to 1,700 genes that are commonly associated with cancer.
In the new biorepository collaboration, Tempus will store Rush tissue samples, analyze them and send back potentially valuable findings to clinicians. Tempus will also add to its growing database of the genetics and molecular function of various kinds of cancer.
"Their strength is analysis," says Dr. Vijaya Reddy, chairperson of the Rush Department of Pathology. "We're taking what we do beyond good patient care to the level of precision medicine — analysis at the molecular level of each patient's tumor."
This synergistic new arrangement is foundational to enhancing cancer care at Rush further, because it will greatly increase Rush’s own library of information about the cancers it has treated. In the past, that capacity has been limited to the relatively modest-sized biorepository at Rush, which is maintained in the Department of Pathology. Cardiothoracic and lung specimens make up the bulk of the present collection, but the new arrangement will allow for a considerable expansion of the types of cancer stored, Reddy says.
The collaboration with Tempus also will open up new opportunities for Rush investigators to participate more fully and effectively on the molecular level in the fight against cancer. That effort eventually should yield advanced and more effective new options in patient care, including screening protocols, prevention strategies and individualized treatment plans.
Patients whose tissues are stored and analyzed today may be included in future clinical trials for their particular types of cancer, according to Reddy. "This infrastructure is key for both our clinicians and our researchers," she says.
Dr. Richard Byrne, chairperson of Rush's Department of Neurological Surgery, has been a strong proponent of more comprehensive tissue storage facilities. One of his specialties is brain tumor surgery, and Byrne says he's looking forward to the day when he and his team will be able to characterize "the molecular blueprint of an individual’s tumor, which may lead to unique and tailored treatments" for each patient.
Eventually, "we'll be able to track which patients respond to which treatments and why. In patients who have a second operation, we will discover how the chemotherapy or radiation treatments have affected the tumor, and why some tumors were not successfully treated," Byrne says.
Dr. Ranga Krishnan, the Henry P. Russe, MD, Dean of Rush Medical College, has high expectations for Rush’s growing partnership with Tempus. “The characterization of the genomic and epigenomic background of cancer and patient derived tissue assays for treatment response will be at the heart of our clinical and research efforts at Rush,” Krishnan says. “This will allow us to not only identify pathways to more personalized treatment, but also will allow discovery of novel diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for the early diagnosis and treatment for cancers.”
“While cancer is the current focus, the collaboration with Tempus has the potential to be scaled up to include tissues from patients with a variety of other diseases where a ‘precision medicine’ approach can yield more precise diagnoses, improved treatments and more robust prevention strategies,” says Dr. Joshua Jacobs, associate provost for research at Rush University, and chairperson of the Rush Department of Orthopedic Surgery.