Former Purdue University student Tyler Trent made headlines several times over the past year. He battled osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, thee times — and used his story to raise awareness and money for his alma mater’s Center for Cancer Research. Sadly, Tyler’s battle with cancer ended on New Year’s Day 2019 — but his legacy won’t soon be forgotten. Tyler was just a happy person, no matter what was happening with his body, and he used his experience with bone cancer to bring as much good into the world as he possibly could. His life had meaning, and in addition to touching the lives of thousands, he made a major contribution to the medical community.
Tyler donated his tumor to doctors at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, so they can hone treatments to help patients after him. Tyler’s donation allowed the doctors at Riley Hospital for Children to examine his type of tumor in something called “living-model research,” which means that they were able to implant the tumor into an animal subject and therefore test various treatments, such as chemotherapy combinations, to see how effective they are. This is a more realistic way to examine the tissue and how it responds to certain treatments than when cells are isolated in, for example, a petri dish.
After beating the aggressive bone cancer, which first struck in his mid-teens, Tyler relapsed in 2017, and that’s when he decided to donate the tumor that reappeared. This has been particularly impactful because less examination and testing of these relapse tumors has been done and there was a huge medical need to learn more, explained one of Tyler’s doctors, Dr. Jamie Renbarger, who is also section chief of hematology/oncology and head of the pediatric precision genomics program at the hospital.
Tissue donations are incredibly important for medical advancements in cancer research and understanding how the disease progresses. According to the National Cancer Institute, laws prevent any human tissue (from a cancer survivor or otherwise) to be used without explicit consent, so if you’re interested in donating, be sure to say something to your doctor. You won’t be able to choose how, exactly, the tissue is used, but you will undoubtedly be helping future discoveries and treatment options.
As one of the first osteosarcoma survivors to donate living tissue, Tyler was able to name the tissues from the tumor he donated, and he chose TT-1 and TT-2, for his initials. “I feel like I’m getting to view my legacy come to life,” Tyler told IndyStar. “I’m incredibly thankful that I’m getting to see the impact tissue donation is having. Most people don’t live long enough to see their impact but I’m getting blessed with that.”
Tyler’s legacy — of course — goes far beyond just his medical contributions. He will be remembered for his bravery, his spirit — and of course, his love for Purdue football.