MoS For Health And Family Welfare Visits The National Cancer Tissue Biobank At IIT Madras

The advanced research facilities will help India develop treatments and medications for cancer treatment that will be most effective in Indian conditions or patients, said Ashwini Kumar Choubey.

Ashwini Kumar Choubey (C), MoS for Health and Family Welfare, interacting with ICMR officials and IIT Madras faculty members during his visit to IIT Madras campus.

Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, visited the National Cancer Tissue Biobank, a unique, first-of-its-kind-facility at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) recently.

The National Cancer Tissue Biobank was established at IIT Madras as a joint venture between Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and IIT Madras. At the Phase 2 level, to develop the cancer genome database specific to the Indian population, IIT Madras has proposed to establish a National facility on Cancer Genomics as a joint venture between the Indian Council for Medical research, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and IIT Madras. This was discussed with the minister during the visit.

S. Mahalingam, the coordinator of the National Cancer Tissue Biobank, at the Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, has proposed to create an Indian population-specific cancer genomic database. This database will be an invaluable resource to identify cancer-specific biomarkers in India, which will enable early detection of cancers in Indian patients. Further, it will also be very useful to identify novel drug targets for developing new therapies specific to the Indian population. 

Speaking after visiting the facility, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, said, “The present treatment for cancer was devised predominantly in other countries. However, the treatment for patients in India will differ on account of changes in lifestyle and genetic variations. This National Cancer Tissue Biobank at IIT Madras will enable India to perform the necessary testing to develop treatments and medications that will be most effective in Indian conditions/patients. I am told this Biobank already stores 3,000 cancer tissue samples collected from various hospitals.”

“I am happy to be in IIT Madras Campus to see the research happening at this state-of-the-art facility. I was briefed on the progress made so far and the goals by Prof S. Mahalingam. These advanced research facilities will prove to be a boon to the people and will really help the country. I want to wage a war against Cancer and am confident that if we all come together, this war can be won,” he added.

The minister is also working closely with Organizations such as Tata Trusts to take the idea of Cancer treatment to the grassroots across the country. He is keen to ensure all sections of the population have access to affordable and effective cancer treatment.

Highlighting the unique aspects of National Cancer Tissue Biobank, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras, said, “The biobank has the infrastructure to store 60,000 tissue samples. IIT Madras, apart from educating the next generation of scientists, aims to propel cutting edge cancer research in India and create a centre of excellence where both basic and clinical scientists can synergise their efforts to combat cancer.”

The National Cancer Tissue Biobank has signed MoUs with hospitals in Chennai and Puducherry to collect cancer tissue samples after obtaining ethical clearance from the Institutional Ethical Committee of IIT Madras and the respective medical centres, and consent from the patients. All the samples are stored in liquid nitrogen facility with a pathology report. So far, the Biobank has collected cancer tissue samples from more than 3000 patients.

Speaking about the progress till now, S. Mahalingam said, “IIT Madras researchers have begun the sequencing of the genomes of cancer patients starting first with breast cancer samples and completed whole-exome and transcriptome sequencing for 300 cancer patients."

The main focus of the genomic facility is to carry out the whole-exome and RNA sequencing for the different cancer tissue samples available at the National Cancer Tissue Biobank to establish cancer genome database in India. This database will help to identify the suitable drug targets and biomarkers for effective ‘personalized treatment’ with reduced side effects and early detection for better management of cancer. This database will be made available to scientists of Indian institutions.

The project aims to attract voluntary contribution of cancer tissues by individual patients and treating doctors/institutions. This effort has become important with the advent of genomic medicine. Such type of indigenous research is vital for the advancement of cancer therapeutics in India. This community-based venture will help to reflect on cancer incidence, diagnostics and treatment outcomes.

One of the distinctive features of this cancer genome facility is that many cancer hospitals and cancer research organisations in the public and private domains across the nation are participating in this huge national initiative, which has the potential to significantly raise the level of cancer research and therapeutics in India. Samples available in this facility will be accessible to research institutions/organisations with appropriate regulatory approval.

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