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Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research

Komen Tissue Bank

Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center are home to the world’s only biorepository – or bank – of healthy breast tissue. The tissue is donated by selfless women without cancer who voluntarily undergo a breast biopsy.

Tissue Donation

Cancer patients and their families and friends have been actively participating in fundraising and awareness campaigns for many years. Collecting specimens from women who have had breast cancer and from those who have not had breast cancer enables these donors to give a gift to science that is unprecedented.

Even though these donors will not benefit directly from their donation of tissue, they are providing an invaluable resource to enable research to maximize its potential today and in generations to come.

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Support Breast Cancer Research

Donor support is crucial to advancing discoveries that will have the most meaningful impact on women’s lives. Find out how you can make a philanthropic gift to support the Komen Tissue Bank at IU School of Medicine.

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What is it like to donate?

What is it like to donate your healthy breast tissue to the Komen Tissue Bank at IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center? Follow an actual donor through the procedure.

Breast Tissue Donation FAQ

Keep in mind that each donor is different, and will have somewhat of a different experience from the next person. The following FAQs are answered based on feedback from donors.
  • Who is eligible to donate breast tissue?
    For the purposes of this study, a woman is healthy if she shows no sign of breast cancer. To be eligible to donate, she:

    • must be a biological female
    • must be at least 18 years of age
    • must have the ability to understand and the willingness to sign an informed consent document
    • must not have breast implants
    • must not be allergic to local anesthetics, such as lidocaine
    • must not be receiving any therapeutic blood thinner stronger than aspirin
    • must not have ever had radiation to the chest (i.e. as treatment for lung or other cancers)

    Please note: breast cancer survivors may donate, but only if the above criteria are met and they have one completely unaffected breast.

  • Is the tissue removal painful, will it hurt?
    There are differing levels of discomfort; most women report not experiencing much pain (“rather like when blood is taken at the doctor’s office”.) There may be slight stinging when the lidocaine (local anesthetic) is administered.
  • How is the tissue actually removed?
    The tissue is collected using a vacuum-assist device, which uses a needle and air. This device will remove all three tissue cores in quick succession.
  • From where is the breast tissue taken?
    The sample is taken from the upper, outer quadrant of the breast near the armpit.
  • Can you give me a detailed outline of the procedure?
    • Your skin will be cleaned, then numbed with lidocaine.
    • The physician nicks the skin with a scalpel, and the needle is inserted into this incision.
    • Several sample cores are removed from the breast (about the size of 3 small peas).
    • A nurse / surgeon’s assistant holds pressure on the incision for 10 full minutes, then applies a pressure bandage.
    • The donor will be given an ice pack to put inside the bra.
  • Will I have a bruise or a scar?
    Everyone has a different experience with bruising, ranging from not at all to quite a bit. There may be minimal scarring, often so small or faint it is barely visible.
  • What do I need to bring with me to the collection event?
    If you are taking any medications, please bring a list of them with you. There is no need for any particular type of ID or other paperwork. You may find it more comfortable to wear a sports bra, as it will make it easier to apply the ice pack. If applicable, please bring contact information for your mammorgram provider (you will be asked to allow us to request a copy of your mammogram on your behalf) Please note: the request for a mammogram only applies if you have had, or intend in the near future to have, a mammogram. Submission of a mammogram is not a prerequisite for tissue donation.
  • After I have donated can I resume my normal activities for the day?
    As long as you do nothing strenuous it is fine to immediately resume regular activities, however, please refrain from any heavy lifting or hard physical activity, such as playing tennis. You may resume working out and playing sports after 24 hours.
  • How old is too old to participate?
    There is no upper age limit. Anyone who fulfills donor qualifications may donate; however, please be sure to pay special attention to the parameters involving mental acuity.
  • May I donate again?
    Researchers we have consulted suggest that the changes that occur over a five year period of time make additional tissue collections from the same donor interesting. Therefore you will be invited to donate again only if you wish to do so, after at least five years have passed after a donation.
  • Can I donate if I have dense or fibrocystic breasts?
    Yes, having dense or fibrocystic breasts does not prohibit you from donating tissue.
  • Am I allowed to donate if I have had breast cancer?
    Yes but only if you have an unaffected breast.
  • I am planning to have a breast reduction. Can I donate the tissue the surgeon removes to the tissue bank?
    No. The Komen Tissue Bank follows a strict protocol which governs how and from whom our tissue is collected. In addition, our Standard Operating Procedures outline in exact detail how the tissue and blood samples must be processed. As we would be incapable of ensuring that these regulations would be enacted, the Komen Tissue Bank is unable to accept donations of tissue from breast reduction procedures.
  • Where can I find research published using the Komen Tissue Bank Samples?
    Manuscripts published which have used samples from the Komen Tissue Bank.

Tissue Use in Research

Breast cancer is not a single disease but rather a group of diseases with different biologies that affect each woman differently and may develop for different reasons. For this reason, the tissue bank collects and makes available healthy tissue from women of diverse backgrounds at every stage in their lives. The tissue donation process involves a surgeon using a needle to withdraw tissue about the size of two peas from an area numbed by a local anesthetic. A small blood sample is also collected from each donor. Each tissue sample is richly annotated with information about the donor’s height, weight, family history, overall health, ethnicity and other factors that may be useful to scientists. 

Using the online Virtual Tissue Bank, researchers can easily search for and then request tissue from women of all races and ethnic backgrounds; old and young; thin and obese; those who had no children, one child or many children; women who have been through menopause and ones who have not; those with a family history of breast cancer and those whose family has not been touched by the disease.

The tissue bank is a resource to investigators around the globe. Samples have been utilized by international experts from institutions such as Purdue University, Mayo Clinic, the NCI, Yale University, Dartmouth College, Dana-Farber/Harvard University, Breakthrough Research Centre at The Royal Marsden Hospital (UK) and the University of Queensland in Australia. In exchange, the researchers must agree to return their data to IU School of Medicine so the information can be widely shared. The goal is to eliminate duplication of effort and expense and to hasten the discovery of a cure.

But it is not only well-known and well-established researchers who can mine the tissue samples. The Virtual Tissue Bank allows anyone with a computer and an idea to conduct promising experiments involving healthy breast tissue – regardless of whether that be a researcher at Harvard or a high school science whiz half way around the world. Digital molecular data about samples are uploaded to a secure, user-friendly website. Through data mining and analysis tools, investigators may be able to answer important questions in breast cancer research without ever touching a tissue specimen.

Anna Maria Storniolo, MD, is the executive director of the Komen Tissue Bank at IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. Storniolo is a professor of clinical medicine at IU School of Medicine.

Fast Facts

5,500 women have donated healthy breast tissue
25 percent of donors represent minority populations
11,000 women have donated DNA and blood
160 research projects have used samples from the tissue bank
45 states and the District of Columbia are represented by donors
50 manuscripts have published research using tissue samples

Media Coverage

To request a media interview about the Komen Tissue Bank at IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, email Michael Schug or call 317-278-0953.