Biobank Can Help Colon Cancer Patients Manage Their Disease Better

Biobank Can Help Colon Cancer Patients Manage Their Disease Better

One way for those with colorectal cancer to become more involved in the management and treatment of their disease is to check out the Penn State Colorectal Diseases Biobank.

“For patients, the stress is the unknown and the lack of control,” Walter Koltun, the director of the biobank, said in a news release. “If you incorporate their concerns and their responses, they become more compliant with treatments. They understand the rationale for what we’re doing.”

“I call that patient-centered care,” added Koltun, who is chief of the Penn State College of Medicine’s Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery. “It really means the patient is the director of the symphony. What they need and how their disease affects them comes back to genetics. What disease they have and how it is interacting with their body’s physiology is different for each patient and is in large part related to their genetics.”

Prevention of cancer-related deaths

The Colorectal Diseases Biobank provides useful information categorized by disease-risk genes. It also arranges genetic testing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that, in people 50 and older, genetic testing can prevent up to six out of 10 cancer-related deaths. Genetic testing may also improve patient prognosis. That’s because the tests make patients aware of their disease sooner than if they were not tested, so they can get treated earlier.

“Some of these genes, when they’re present, predict a higher probability of getting colon or rectal cancer,” Koltun said. “So we can identify at an earlier age a patient who should go through earlier screening and not wait until they’re 50.”

Another reason that knowing which genes are faulty is important is that genes greatly influence cancer responses to treatment.

“With some colorectal cancers, some genes dictate which patients will do better with chemotherapy or not,” Koltun said. “That’s how some of the genetic data is being utilized for patient management.”


Animals studies can provide useful information about colorectal cancer, but not all the findings apply to humans. So it’s important that researchers have access to patient tissue samples as well.

The Penn State biobank has collected around 3,000 tissue samples since 1998. They are collected with the patients’ consent and stored for research purposes.

“As a surgeon, I am able to collect the tissue,” Koltun said. “Many years later, we can do repetitive studies on these stored samples, as new ideas and new thoughts on causes for the disease come to life.”

“Prior to joining with Dr. Koltun’s research group, much of our work has been conducted in established human colorectal cancer cell lines and mouse model systems,” said Greg Yochum, a researcher who works with Koltun. “It is particularly exciting for me to determine whether paradigms we identified in these systems are directly applicable to humans and to use these valuable tissues as a source to make new scientific discoveries.”

Patient involvement in care

Informing patients about their disease and research to increase treatment options may reduce their anxiety and encourage them to become more active in their care process.

“You educate the patient, and they can help with the decision making about medications, the risks of treatment and what is important to them, like whether they want to get involved in a research trial,” Koltun said. “Not only does education provide for improvement in their anxiety and depression levels, but we have a better patient outcome.”

“They tell you what they’re thinking and what they want and what’s bothering them,” he added. “This makes them more likely to comply with their treatments once they understand the rationale.”

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