The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 18, 2012

WRI reaches milestone

Breast cancer tissue bank receives 50,000th specimen

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

WINDBER — Celebrating the milestone of 50,000 frozen cancer specimens in Windber Research Institute’s tissue bank must honor the courage of women who volunteered to participate, leaders said.

“Over the past 12 years, thousands of women have turned an impossibly bad situation into something positive,” institute President Tom Kurtz said during a ceremony Tuesday.

Research made possible by their generosity would not produce results in time to cure their disease, but might help their family members and friends facing cancer, Kurtz added.

Dozens of dignitaries and local sponsors gathered around the institute’s tissue bank windows to watch the 50,000th specimen be selected by  Stella Somiari, senior director for education at Windber, and Col. Craig Shriver, director of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Somiari then turned the test tube over to research assistant Sean Rigby, who placed in the barrel-sized freezer.

During his speech, Shriver also gave tribute to the patients who donated the specimens.

“At the most crisis point in their lives, having just been diagnosed with cancer, being approached by a stranger, but someone they trusted because they were nurse in a major medical center, they made a decision and said ‘Yes,’ ” Shriver said. “ ‘Yes, I trust you enough to let you have some of my tissue samples.’

“That is a privilege. That is a real statement for these women. We can never forget that.”

Shriver recapped the history of Windber Research Institute, which began as an earmark-funded program under the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Johns-town. Its reputation for performance and success earned it a place in the new Walter Reed’s cancer program, which is written into the Defense Department’s budget, Shriver noted.

“The Department of Defense recognizes that it is such an important part of the health care, that this has continue,” Shriver said.

“And this will continue regardless of who is in this office as director.”