Iowa Residual Tissue Repository

The State Health Registry of Iowa (SHRI) has been part of the NCI SEER program since 1973. For the years 1973-2013, over 632,610 new in situ and invasive cancers were diagnosed among 547,240 Iowans. Almost 248,000 of those Iowans died from cancer.

The SHRI collects incidence, extent of disease, survival, and mortality information. This is used to: 1) respond to data requests for frequencies, rates, and trends; 2) evaluate potential cancer clusters in Iowa; 3) provide educational information; 4) assess cancer burden and trends for addressing comprehensive cancer control issues; 5) assist with case-finding and data collection related to case-control and cohort studies including electronic linkages for cancer information; 6) provide tissue for studies involving molecular epidemiology; and 7) provide data for etiologic and health services/outcomes research.

About the Iowa Residual Tissue Repository

The College of American Pathologists recommends a minimum of 10 years for the retention requirement of paraffin tissue blocks. Most pathology labs serving Iowans adhere to this recommendation. After that time has passed, some labs destroy their tissue blocks. The SHRI works with pathology labs serving Iowans to preserve these blocks where cancer was involved so they are not destroyed and can be made available to researchers. These tissue blocks and their accompanying pathology reports compose the Residual Tissue Repository (RTR) and are stored at the SHRI’s offices at the University of Iowa. Other tissue blocks, slides, and pathology reports can be requested by the SHRI directly from their originating pathology labs, and these pathology materials make up the Virtual Tissue Repository (VTR).

As of October 2, 2015, the Iowa RTR contained 450,088 tissue blocks involving 75,633 pathology reports for 54,721 tumors (in situ or invasive) from 52,419 patients. The majority of these tumors were diagnosed between 1994 and 2004. These tissue blocks are paraffin-embedded and can be used for molecular, DNA, and RNA analyses. They can be linked to the demographic, tumor, first course therapy, and follow-up information collected by SHRI. This linkage creates a powerful resource that can be used for population-based analyses. Ideally, it is reserved for population-based, hypothesis-testing research protocols.

Contact Bradley McDowell at 1-319-384-1768 or for more information.


What is the difference between the Iowa Residual Tissue Repository and the Iowa Virtual Tissue Repository?
Samples in the RTR tend to be older, but they are stored at the SHRI offices and are readily available to researchers. More recent samples can be obtained from the VTR, but they must be obtained from the pathology labs at which they are stored. This adds cost and time. Samples from both the RTR and VTR can be linked to the demographic, tumor, first course therapy, and follow-up information collected by the SHRI.
Do any other cancer registries maintain tissue repositories?
Yes, the central cancer registries for Los Angeles County and Hawaii also maintain tissue repositories and have been part of the SEER RTR. If investigators are especially concerned about the diversity or size of their case population of tissue samples, they may be interested in obtaining more cases with samples from this source. The Population Research Core can assist with that process.
How much does it cost to obtain samples?

Specific costs vary widely from project to project depending on tissue acquisition and processing requirements. Important factors include number of samples to be reviewed by staff for suitability and requests for linked clinical, demographic, or mortality information. Since the older samples from the RTR are readily available, it is generally less expensive to use those samples compared to the VTR.

Researchers also need to arrange for the cutting, staining, and reading of the tissue samples. Although it is not required, many researchers work through the University of Iowa Comparative Pathology Laboratory to accomplish this. More information (including pricing) can be found at the lab’s website.

A minimum per case cost is $50 (in direct costs) This cost is dependent on the protocol and work scope document.

How do I get started?

Contact the HCCC Population Research Core by phone 1-319-384-1768 or e-mail The Population Research Core will work with you to put together a protocol and work scope document. The protocol will outline specific aims and proposed analyses. The work scope will delegate responsibilities (e.g., what the SHRI/Population Research Core will actually provide to researchers, who will fix the samples onto slides, etc). The Population Research Core can perform feasibility analyses, if necessary, and construct a budget. Some typical questions that you may need to consider are:

  • Would you like the University of Iowa Histology Research Laboratory to perform the lab work?
  • How many unstained cuts from the block would you like cut?
  • How thick do they need to be?
  • Do you want PCR tubes or tissue cores?
  • Is normal tissue-containing blocks needed or just tumor-containing tissue?
  • Who will review stained slides?
What approvals are necessary?
IRB approval is necessary for all projects that use the RTR and VTR. If you need mortality information, the Iowa Department of Public Health will also need to approve the project. The Population Research Core can help prepare both kinds of applications. The Population Research Core can also help with the processes involved with obtaining samples from the California and Hawaii programs.


Site Patients Tumors Path Reports Tissue Blocks
Oral Cavity and Pharynx 1222 1241 1658 8717
Esophagus 627 630 778 2025
Stomach 812 813 1125 4760
Colon and Rectum 9937 10118 15185 96159
Pancreas 605 605 684 2677
Liver and Intrahepatic Bile Duct 190 190 212 400
Lung and Bronchus 6283 6313 8558 26272
Melanoma of the Skin 3745 3871 5672 20447
Breast 13145 13498 21130 187572
Cervix Uteri 753 753 974 5269
Corpus Uteri and Uterus, NOS 2374 2375 3386 24068
Ovary 804 804 1019 11578
Prostate 10502 10503 12414 74881
Testis 322 324 349 2733
Urinary Bladder 3414 3480 4926 17016
Kidney and Renal Pelvis 1184 1187 1368 9461
Brain and Other Nervous System 518 519 574 2926
Thyroid 799 801 991 8892
Hodgkins Lymphoma 347 347 460 1756
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 2636 2640 3775 12988
Myeloma 595 595 742 1827
Leukemia 1177 1178 1484 3482
Other Sites 3942 3962 5023 22478

Cancer Research at Iowa

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