Each year, there are an estimated 3,000 new cases of cancer in Luxembourg, the most frequent being breast, prostate, colon and skin cancer.
1 in 8 deaths is caused by cancer
The disease is responsible for at least a quarter of all deaths in the country and remains one of today’s main health burdens, both in terms of pain and healthcare cost. This makes it ever more important that medical professionals, researchers, patients associations, politicians and the public work hand in hand to make a difference.
One major step in this effort is the National Cancer Plan, which was presented in 2014 by the Ministry of Health. This ambitious plan to fight cancer on multiple fronts gives a key role to IBBL in advancing cancer research. Indeed, since the creation of the biobank, we have been actively supporting several cancer research projects, some of which are run under the umbrella of the Personalised Medicine Consortium (PMC).
Personalising lung cancer therapy
Led by oncologist Dr Guy Berchem (Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg & LIH), the main aim of this PMC’s flaship lung cancer programme is to discover and evaluate molecules in the blood or tumour tissue of cancer patients that could be used to improve diagnosis or treatment decision.
The study compares survival between patients that received targeted therapy, based on the presence of specific mutations in their tumour, and those patients that received standard therapy. To date, over 200 patients have been recruited for the study.
Publishing first results
Some of the cancer studies that we support have already generated significant results, such as the colorectal cancer study, funded by the Fondation Cancer and led by Prof. Serge Haan from the University of Luxembourg. The researchers on this project published their first findings in a prestigious scientific journal in 2014, following the discovery of 2 new molecules potentially suitable for early diagnosis of colorectal cancer. It is worth mentioning that colon cancer can be cured in 9 out of 10 cases when detected in time. The project has inspired two other publications since then, and the team continues looking at powerful markers that could help reduce cancer incidence.
To carry out their research, scientists rely on the support from the population. To date a total of 112 patients volunteered to donate part of their colon tumour for research. These samples were collected by surgeons in Luxembourgish hospitals and then immediately brought to the biobank, where our pathologists processed and analysed the tissues. We coordinated all of the steps involved in the collection, processing and quality control of these biological samples and their associated medical data.
This collection from the Luxembourgish population will also help researchers carry out three new pilot studies funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche and the PMC.
Enhancing the national fight against cancer
The scope of the collection is expected to be expended to all cancer types. Organised within the National Plan Cancer, the initiative relies on a joint effort between all of the actors in cancer research in Luxembourg: the hospitals, the Laboratoire National de Santé and the biobank. In future, any cancer patient that receives health care in Luxembourg will thereby have the opportunity to advance cancer research by donating a sample of tumour tissues. The collection will undoubtedly be a great asset to the national fight against cancer.
Cancer patients that would like to help advance cancer research, can ask their oncologist whether there are any ongoing research projects that they could participate in. IBBL has several ongoing collaborations with oncologists from Luxembourgish hospitals. Many of these projects are specific to a particular cancer type. However, within the Luxembourg National Cancer Plan, it is foreseen that eventually parts from all the tumour tissues that are surgically removed from cancer patients be included in the biobank for research purposes, if the patient has given his consent.
What about ethics ?
All of our biological samples are contributions from volunteers, both patients and healthy citizens, who have given specific consent for the collection of their sample. Every donor has the right to withdraw their consent at any time, in which case all of the unused samples will be destroyed and related data deleted.
We work with national and international authorities to ensure that the collection and use of samples and data conform to high ethical standards and safeguard the privacy of the donor. All of our donors’ identities are kept strictly confidential and our data secured. We have a rigorous process in place to remove all identifying information from samples and health records at the source, so no identifying information is known by the biobank staff or given to researchers.
Before receiving any samples, research organisations must submit an application to our sample access committee. To receive the approval of this committee, applicants must show that they have the expertise to perform their proposed research, that the proposed research has ethical clearance, and that they have sufficient funds to see the research through to completion.