In a discreet corner of the children’s oncology laboratory of the Sant Joan de Deu Hospitalprotected as if it were a true treasure, is the largest bank of childhood tumors in all of Spain. It is an ‘archive’ started almost twenty years ago and which, today, has samples of more than 4,200 boys and girls with pediatric cancer. «He is a real treasure for science. Thanks to these samples we can continue advancing in the investigation of these diseases, improve the prognosis of patients and speed up the search for treatments», he explains, with a didactic spirit, cristina jouthe person in charge of this biobank.

The initiative was launched back in 2004. The idea, as Jou explains, was to create a repository of something as valuable and scarce as samples of different types of childhood cancers: from the most frequent, such as neuroblastomaseven the rarest, like those of retina. «When a tumor is removed from a patient, a part is used to make the biopsy and another is processed and stored in the experiment bench», comments the scientist. «These donations are only possible thanks to the generosity of the families. Virtually everyone will agree to include their children’s samples in our repository because they understand the value of the research for the treatment of these diseases,» he says.

«These donations are only possible thanks to the generosity of the families»

Cristina Jou, head of the children’s tumor bank

some samples they only measure a few millimeters. Others, at most, They can add up to a few centimeters. But despite their small size, each and every one of these tumor fragments open the door to an infinite number of scientific studies to, for example, search for biomarkers that help predict the evolution of the disease or test the efficacy of possible treatments. «From these samples we can extract very valuable material such as DNA, RNA or tumor proteins. From there We can ‘revive’ these cells, grow them to multiply and use them in experiments«, Explain james morascientific director of the oncology and hematology service of Sant Joan de Déu.

circuit of professionals

The children’s tumor bank of Sant Joan de Déu currently has five people dedicated entirely to his management. But for it to work properly, and above all for it to grow, it has the support of all the hospital staff. According to Mora, every time a boy or girl is operated on for pediatric cancer, all operating room staff is prepared to collect a suitable tumor fragment to be stored in the bank. From there, the sample moves quickly to the pathology service for technicians to clean, process and freeze it as quickly as possible.

«The process is simple, but it requires the coordination of many people and, above all, a lot of speed»

Jaume Mora, scientific director

«There is a whole circuit of people involved in this process. The process is simple, but it requires the coordination of many people and, above all, a lot of speed,» explains the doctor. At this time, according to the specialist’s calculations, for each extraction a dozen professionals are mobilized from the center. The circuit has been perfected to such an extent that, today, the samples They only take between 30 minutes and an hour since they are extracted from the patient until they are stored in the tissue bank. “Imagine it’s a collection of rare stamps. Each one has incalculable value and we must do everything possible to preserve them in the best conditions”, adds Mora.

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The Sant Joan de Déu facilities store the samples of more than 25,000 donors with different pathologies. Of this, at least 4,200 are boys and girls with childhood cancer. «The fact of having such a large collection is what allows us to carry out solid studies on these diseases,» he explains. Angel Montero, director of the research group on pediatric cancer treatments at the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute. «We take fragments of the samples as small as the head of a needle and we ‘multiply’ them until we get large populations. From there we do ‘in vitro’ studies, with the cells themselves, or pass them on to animal models,» he explains.

«We take fragments of the samples as small as the head of a needle and multiply them to investigate»

Ángel Montero, director of the research group

As Montero explains, thanks to the samples collected in this bank, it has been possible to create the most sophisticated animal model to date for study diffuse gliomas (a type of primary tumors of the central nervous system). «This model is used in more than sixty laboratories around the world. Everyone who is studying this disease does so based on the model created in this hospital,» he explains. The investigations carried out with these samples have also allowed study twenty different pediatric tumors and refine treatments for diseases such as, for example, retinoblastoma (retinal cancer) that right now are already being tested in patients.