It turns out that not every tumor is created equal, and Bo Rueda, PhD, associate director of the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology (VCRB) and director of the MGH Vincent Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinical Fellows Research Program, is at the forefront of pioneering research about the unique characteristics of gynecologic tumors and their treatments.
Rueda oversees the MGH Gynecologic Tissue Repository, commonly known as the tumor bank. The bank began collecting tissue samples of endometrial cancer, fibroids and healthy tissue five years ago. It has since grown into one of the premier sources of primary research tissue for all types of gynecologic tumors. Today, everyone who comes to MGH for gynecologic surgery is asked to donate tissue samples, creating a continually evolving, diverse recourse for researchers. In addition, the VRCB is currently building complementary “bio bank” where every tumor that is added to the tissue bank is also grown in vivo for novel pre-clinical trials.
The VCRB is one of only a few centers in the country to conduct research on tumor tissue sourced directly from current patients. “The clinical fellows are enthusiastic about it applicability,” Rueda says. “It has taken our gyn-one research into a new realm of science, because it allows us to readily transition from basic science to the bedside.” The focus is on molecular interrogation of specific tumors, mapping out their unique makeup and potentially allowing for the creation of individualized treatment profiles for each type of tumor.
As differences in tumors are observed, researchers then target novel anti-cancer drugs to a tumor’s unique cell-signaling pathways, which contribute to its growth. The more knowledge researchers gain about how cancer functions in each type of tumor, the more specific treatment may be developed.
Researchers also benefit from the tumor bank’s location at a world-class clinical center. “The unique thing I’ve seen here at Vincent is that clinical faculty and research faculty are highly integrated,” Rueda notes. Clinicians and researchers attend each other’s meetings and talks, communicating regularly. This information exchange has advantages for both sides, with researchers seeing how their studies affect patients and clinicians well-versed in cutting-edge techniques. And Rueda neatly illustrates the benefits to patients when he asks, “Would you rather go to a clinician who understands the next generation of research and care, or one who just tells you the standard treatment?”
That next generation of care is coming closer, as the first patient trials on research conducted by the VCRB have recently been given preliminary approval. “It’s been a long time coming,” Rueda observes. “I’ve always said, because of its rarity, I would be retired before our bench-based research got to the point of directly impacting clinical trials in women with gynecological cancer. Now it’s becoming the new standard for our team.”