Identifying signature genetic mutations in various cancers has led to treatments that specifically target the flaw. But with rare cancers there may be too few patient samples available from which to discern any common fault. Travelling back in time, researchers have now shown that it’s possible to boost sample sets using tissue taken from patients as long as a century ago, and to be found stored in hospitals worldwide. Archived samples have been preserved using the standard paraffin wax procedure still in use today, and from which pathologists cut and stain sections to identify the disease – like this rhabdomyosarcoma [a rare muscle tumour] pictured. However, until recently gene analysis has only worked on freshly frozen tissue, often stored especially for the purpose. Now the technology has advanced, the readily available wax-embedded tissue can also yield the genetic code, and with it may follow targeted therapy for rare tumours.
Written by Charlotte Rose Davison
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