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Human Tissue Research

Donating Tissue Saves Human and Animal Lives

Human tissue is critical for advancing scientific research that could help prevent and treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. By simply registering to become an organ and tissue donor (which you can often do online through your state’s motor vehicle department), you can help scientists save human lives and reduce and replace animals used in research.

The Tissue Issue

The use of human tissues in scientific research has improved health care by leading to discoveries in disease progression, drug development, and medical procedures. Organs-on-chips, 3D bioprinting, and other methods that use human tissues instead of animals produce results that better translate to human health.

Human tissue is typically obtained post-mortem from people who are organ donors, as surgery remnants, and via blood or other bodily fluids. But accessibility is often cited as one of the main barriers of using human tissues and cells for scientific advancement.

The Physicians Committee convened The Human Tissue Roundtable to address the issue. The roundtable speakers—scientists, policy experts, physicians, and leaders from U.S. federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations—covered the full spectrum of human tissue donation, from a transplant surgeon who initiates the cycle of tissue recovery in the operating room to a scientist who uses human cells to study drug development for preclinical trials.

The Human Tissue Roundtable led to the development of the following recommendations and the Physicians Committee is working to achieve them.

  1. Simplify language and streamline donation consent forms.
  2. Improve communication between medical professionals, scientists, donors, and the public so everyone has a better understanding of the value of human tissue for research purposes and the need for quality tissues.
  3. Increase continuing education opportunities to improve the process of collecting human organs and tissues for research. 
  4. Create a database to match tissue providers with researchers based on specific tissue needs, such as the quantity, time parameters, and processing technique.
  5. Establish a set of quality control criteria and well-defined minimum performance metrics and parameter specifications for each tissue or cell type.
  6. Create standardized criteria of use, language, characterization, cell type, recovery, and procurement practices to be widely adopted as best practices. 
  7. Revise current U.S. federal regulations favoring research or tests using animals.
  8. Work with the U.S. Congress and all stakeholders to prioritize human tissue research.

For more information on the Human Tissue Roundtable, read the Workshop Report: Increasing the Availability of Quality Human Tissue for Research.

Human Tissue Health Breakthroughs

Scientists have recently used human lung tissue derived from patients affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to discover a method for repairing lung tissue. Researchers have also used human skin cells leftover from surgeries to develop a test that more accurately identifies skin irritants than animal tests. There have also been advancements in brain, heart, vision, and other areas of health research.

Five Technologies that Use Donated Human Tissue

Donate Your Tissue

Register to be a tissue donor at OrganDonor.gov, operated by the U.S. government’s Division of Transplantation within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or Donate Life.

The National Disease Research Interchange also accepts tissue from both living and post-mortem donors. Individuals can donate blood, tissue from surgery (such as tumors or diseased organs), or organs after death, including those that cannot be used for transplant.

Once you have registered to be a donor, it is important to talk to your family members about your decision so they will know your wishes.

Become an Organ and Tissue Donor

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Report: Scientists Call for Replacing Animal Tests With Human Tissues

Research using human tissues instead of animals is critical to advancing medical research and drug development, but accessibility to quality human tissues is often a barrier.