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URPP Translational Cancer Research

Tumor Biopsy and Live Tumor Cell Biobank linked with Clinical Outcome Data

Tumor tissue biobanks typically include formalin-fixed tumor biopsies or frozen human material, which is suitable for molecular high-throughput  analysis. However, such biobanks do not allow any in vitro or in vivo functional investigations. One strategy to overcome this limitation is the establishment of patient-derived tumor cell cultures, e.g. from surplus surgical materials. The Dermatology Clinic at the University Hospital Zürich has extensive experience in establishing melanoma cell cultures from primary and metastatic tumors originating from various organs including liver, lung, brain, skin and lymph nodes. Notably, when grafted onto immunodeficient mice, these cell lines reliably form new tumors. Similarly, we have expertise in propagating primary human hematopoietic neoplasias in vitro and in new in vivo models. Moreover, a series of tumor tissue microarrays and more than ten thousand frozen tissue samples are stored in the centralized biobank for research and diagnostic purposes at the Institute of Surgical Pathology of the University Hospital Zürich. The longitudinal collection of tumor biopsies and the respective cell cultures will allow us to characterize tumor cell evolution and development of resistance mechanisms arising from conventional and novel targeted therapies. Furthermore, RNA expression microarrays and whole-exome sequences of selected cell lines also exist.

A well-characterized biopsy and live-cell biobank of human tumor samples in addition to tumor tissue and cell line microarrays is essential for translational studies and personalized cancer therapy and thus is a central resource for this URPP. We will establish a live cell biobank not only for melanoma but also for colorectal, lung, breast, pancreatic, oropharyngeal, and renal cancer, depending on sample availability. A live cell biobank combined with the corresponding frozen tissue and clinical data will not only improve characterization of these biopsies and cell lines (e.g. by whole genome sequencing, proteome and transcriptome analyses) but it will also be instrumental for functional in vivo studies aimed at assessing antitumor responses of novel drug and/or immunotherapeutic approaches. Notably, these cell cultures will be linked to clinical patient data such as therapeutic response and patient outcome.

Our specific aims are:

1. Establishment and professional management of a high-quality patient tumor biopsy and live tumor cell biobank linked with detailed, completely anonymous patient and clinical outcome data.

2. Detailed characterization of the cell lines of this biobank for their in vitro and in vivo growth properties, in addition to clinical data acquisition.

3. Development of novel pre-clinical animal models carrying tumor cell lines or primary tumors in addition to immune cells from the same patient to assess in vivo anti-tumor responses to pre-clinical drugs.

Please note: Research projects with patient material and patient data are conducted according to the ethical rules of the Cantonal Ethic Committee of Zurich and require project specific ethical approval.


URPP biobank: Prof. Mitch Levesque, PhD (;

 Centralized tissue biobank: Dr. Peter Schraml (