University staff plan to set up city's first human tissue bank within a few months Hong Kong's first human tissue bank will open in the next few months in an ambitious plan to turn the city into a world-class cancer research centre. The medical bank, to be part of the cancer research facilities at the University of Hong Kong, will store specimens from the cancer cells of patients, along with their comprehensive clinical data under a centralised system for future medical studies, said George Tsao Sai-wah, an anatomy professor at the university. 'Now we plan to build a central human tissue bank that contains not only the medical history and background of patients but also the progress of their recovery, which will allow us to better analyse the differences in various groups of patients in future medical studies, such as their gender, age and other backgrounds,' he said. Dr Tsao said in the past the different departments of the university's medical school had selectively collected cancer specimens from patients, but these were fragmented and not standardised, which made it difficult for researchers to carry out further analysis. The university will focus on collecting samples from patients suffering the most common types of cancer, such as breast, prostate and cervical cancers, gastrointestinal cancer and cancers in the neck, lungs and liver. 'In the past, some departments kept the specimen and were reluctant to share their specimen with others. With a central system, there will be a committee to assess and process the applications to borrow those specimens,' Dr Tsao said. No firm opening date has been set but he said the tissue bank would open as soon as it received official funding approval from the university. He added the facility would be mostly run by existing medical professors and teaching staff, so it was difficult to estimate costs. He declined to reveal how much funding had been requested. Dr Tsao has not ruled out the possibility of allowing other research institutes outside the university or Hong Kong to borrow specimens. University colleague Liu Chi-leung, a surgery professor and an expert in liver transplants, hoped the tissue bank could help Hong Kong to develop into a world-class cancer research centre, but he said it would take at least a decade to mature because it took time to collect long-term data from patients. 'In this region, we are aware that both Singapore and Japan have similar human tissue banks. But we may have more abundant collections in some areas due to more cases in Hong Kong, for example, liver cancer. We are among the top centres in the world doing liver transplant,' he said. The university will obtain consent from patients before their cell specimens and information is stored. Dr Liu said patients' personal information would be protected so they would not be identified in future medical studies in the city.