The 50,000 breast cancer tissue samples stored at the Windber Research Institute are precious, Col. Craig Shriver, director of the Clinical Breast Care Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Windber Research Institute said Tuesday.
“These are people who are at the most crisis point of their lives, having a diagnosis of breast cancer, and they are being approached by a stranger who is asking them to donate tissue samples,” he said. “This is a privilege we are being given. We must never forget that.”
On Tuesday a ceremony was held marking the placement of the 50,000th tissue sample into a freezer at the institute. Of the thousands of breast cancer samples stored in freezers there, half came from patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; 20 percent from patients in the Windber and Johnstown area; 20 percent from hospitals in Annapolis, Md.; and the rest from other military hospitals.
“As samples are analyzed both here and at Walter Reed, we are told time and time again that these are the best samples in the country,” Shriver said. “You can be very proud of what we have accomplished here.”
Staff from both Walter Reed and the institute were featured in an article about unlocking the human breast cancer genome that appeared in the October issue of Nature magazine. The Department of Defense recognizes the importance of the research being done for the military, their families and other civilians, Shriver said.
“It is a promise fulfilled and a promise made,” he said. “Our patients, our veterans, our family members and people of our communities deserve the best and that is what we will continue to give.”
The late U.S. Rep. John Murtha helped obtain funding for the institute. A portrait of John and his wife Joyce Murtha hang on the wall where the commemoration was held. While in Congress Murtha worked to secure $2.5 billion for breast cancer research and millions in additional funding for research of other types of cancer. On Dec. 3 the John P. Murtha Cancer Center was dedicated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Thomas Kurtz, institute president, commended the women who were willing to donate tissue samples.
“Over the past 11 years, thousands of women have turned something negative into something positive,” he said. “Research being done here may someday lead to the cure for breast cancer.”
David Klementik, hospital board chairman, offered his congratulations to everyone connected with the institute on reaching the 50,000th tissue sample milestone.
“It is fitting to take the opportunity to sit back, pause and congratulate ourselves,” he said.