Scientists study human tissue to improve their understanding of how diseases start and progress, and what keeps us healthy. Research such as this often leads to different ways of diagnosing disease and can help develop new treatments. Examples of types of research involving human tissue include: developing screening tests for different types of cancer, testing new treatments for conditions like heart disease and researching how stem cells could be used to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Regulation of research
The HTA licenses organisations that store human tissue for research. We believe that good regulation supports good science, which in turn improves healthcare. The HTA ensures that tissue is removed and stored in an appropriate and well managed way.
Where human tissue is obtained
If tissue is removed during the course of treatment or an investigation, there may be some remaining tissue after the procedure that can be used for research. Tissue for research can only be used with the person's consent.
If a person does not want their tissue to be used for any medical research, or they only want it to be used for specific types of research, it is important that they make this clear to the doctor or nurse who asks for their consent, and that they state their wishes in writing on the consent form.
A person may also give consent for their tissue to be used for research after their death. If there is no record of the deceased person's wishes, consent for research can be obtained from someone nominated by them to act on his or her behalf; or, if no one has been nominated, from a person in a ‘qualifying relationship' - such as a partner, relative or friend.
Please use the links on the left of this page to access information for the research sector.
Impact of legislation and HTA regulation on research
At the end of 2008, the HTA commissioned Opinion Leader to conduct an evaluation of perceptions on how human tissue legislation and its required regulation by the HTA has affected researchers working with human tissue. On 30 September 2009 we published the report of the results from the evaluation and our plans for taking the findings forward - read the report.
New guidance for doctors involved in research
The General Medical Council (GMC) has issued new guidance setting out good practice principles for doctors involved in research. The new guidance Good practice in research and consent to research was published on 4 May 2010. You can also read the GMC news page for more information. This new GMC research guidance is part of two standards launched in 2010 – guidance on end of life care Treatment and care towards the end of life: good practice in decision making has also been published.
Sharing human tissue conference: 15 September 2010
The Medical Research Council and onCore UK held a conference entitled 'Sharing Human Tissue: New opportunities, new horizons', which took place on 15 September 2010 at the National Motorcycle Museum, Birmingham. This conference explored opportunities and barriers to sharing tissue to realise its full potential; and provided an opportunity to share best practice in the management of human tissue collections and associated data. Our Chair Baroness Diana Warwick gave a presentation at the event.