Saturday, July 07, 2007

Human Tissue Act: Tissue Banks

This post continues the series of posts on the Human Tissue Act. Thus far I have examined when individual applications to use human tissue without consent should and shouldn't be approved. In this post I am going to look at a different issue, the issue around granting approval to a human tissue bank.

A human tissue bank is a store of human tissue that will be used for further, perhaps at this point unknown, research purposes. Classically these were common resources that many universities and hospitals in the UK gathered and human tissue was routinely retained for research purposes, often without explicit consent. To a large degree this and the outcry following the Alder Hey's scandal was what prompted the Human Tissue Act in the UK. However, the government didn't want to simply ban tissue banks since they rightly recognised that this would prevent worthwhile research. So instead the act regulates these tissue banks, ensuring that they meet good practice standards, in particular in regards to storage conditions and consent. This is primarily done by requiring a license from the Human Tissue Authority. However a tissue bank can also voluntarily seek approval of their practices from a National Health Service Research Ethics Committee. While this not a legal requirement, it could be seen as part of good practice. There may also be a bonus for research groups in that it is possible to request ethical approval such that research projects associated with the bank do not need to seek further ethical approval if they are only using tissue from that bank. This can only be granted by a limited number of RECs and in a later post in this series I will explore when RECs ought to approve these applications.

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