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MD Anderson, Rare Cancer Research Foundation Team Up on Tissue Collection Effort

NEW YORK – MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Rare Cancer Research Foundation on Thursday announced they are partnering to advance rare cancer research by improving access to biological samples from patients.

The partners launched the initiative recognizing there is a shortage of tissue samples from patients with rare cancers, which are necessary for creating laboratory models for treatment discovery and validation. The cancer center and foundation aim to bolster the collection of rare cancer tumor samples by directly asking patients to donate excess tissue.

The Rare Cancer Research Foundation will use its online patient engagement platform, dubbed, to enable patients with rare cancers — defined as cancers with fewer than 40,000 new cases in the US annually — to donate their biopsies for research.

At the cancer center, researchers led by Andy Futreal, MD Anderson's chair of genomic medicine, and Timothy Heffernan, executive director of the Translational Research to Advance Therapeutics and Innovation in Oncology, or TRACTION, platform, will conduct comprehensive molecular profiling and functional characterizations of approximately 60 rare tumors samples, develop 20 laboratory models, and potentially also generate laboratory cell lines.

The collaboration comes on the heels of the Houston-based cancer center's collaboration with the Broad Institute, announced in May, aimed at molecularly and functionally characterizing rare cancers. The latest sample collection effort will support this larger project by making the data and tumor models available to the research community to improve understanding of rare cancers.

"Our collaboration with the Rare Cancer Research Foundation allows rare cancer patients having surgery anywhere in the US to join in the research effort by contributing excess tumor tissue, giving them the opportunity to truly make an impact on the entire community of these patients," Futreal said in a statement. "Each piece of data or model generated is a potentially transformative tool that can advance our understanding and bring us closer to effective new therapies."