Belfast Telegraph

Home News Health

Northern Ireland lab that's banking on playing a key role in cancer crusade

A revolutionary new ‘biobank’ will store samples from patients with solid tumours of a range of diseases, speeding up research

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland cancer patients are to be given the chance to take part in global efforts to fight the disease thanks to a revolutionary new laboratory here.

Samples of patients’ tumours will be routinely stored at the Northern Ireland Biobank in the Belfast laboratory at the City Hospital, the only one of its kind in the UK and Ireland, to be used in current and future research projects.

Scientists at the facility also have access to cutting-edge technology which allows them to carry out in-depth analysis of tissue samples taken from cancer patients.

The results from these tests will then be used to ensure patients receive the best possible treatment offering them an even greater chance of survival. The development of the laboratory is the latest evidence of the commitment by cancer doctors and researchers in Northern Ireland to offer hope to cancer patients around the world.

Prof Manuel Salto-Tellez, Professor of Molecular Pathology, who has been involved in setting up the laboratory, explained that each cancer is unique in its genetic make-up and this now plays a crucial role in the treatment of the disease.

Scientists at the centre are examining the genetic make-up of patient cancers which allows the doctors treating them to select treatments specific to the individual.

This prevents a patient enduring a painful treatment, such as chemotherapy, if clinicians know the chances of it helping the person are remote.

The new facility is a partnership between Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Prof Nic Jones, chief scientist at CRUK, said: “It is an exciting time overall in cancer research.

“The laboratory is combining what is required for clinicians to be able to determine the best potential treatment for patients and providing the infrastructure required to help researchers to really understand cancer in more detail in future.”

Prof Salto-Tellez said a great deal of work has been done to develop strict protocols for staff in the centre.

He stressed that no samples are stored without express permission from the patients and everything is stored to ensure complete anonymity for the patients involved.

Dr Jackie James, scientific director of the centre, explained that this will speed up research projects.

“This will allow scientists to begin research in a matter of months instead of years,” she said.

“Our nurses will speak to patients beforehand and explain the consent process and as consent is given at an early stage it also means we will be using fresh samples that will improve the research being done.”


  • The Northern Ireland Biobank (NIB) will establish a broad collection of solid tumours, specifically focusing on colorectal, breast, head and neck, gynaecological, prostate and lung cancers.
  • Tissue samples are acquired from the tissue pathology laboratories at both the Royal Victoria Hospital and Belfast City Hospital.
  • All patients are asked to consent for collection of tissue samples.
  • They are also asked to donate samples of blood, urine and saliva as appropriate.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph