By Katy Glazer, Collaborations Engagement Manager, UK Clinical Research Collaboration Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre

Why is human tissue important to health research?

Animal research has contributed to numerous scientific and medical advances over the last century. But now, due to progress in technology and scientific processes, it is possible to use human tissue to reduce the reliance on animals in research, allowing researchers to study diseases in the tissues that are actually affected rather than simulating a model in animals.

Human tissue is playing a vital role in enhancing our understanding of human health and disease and driving the development of safe and effective therapies. Using human tissues that are biologically and physiologically relevant can help to speed up therapy development, bypassing the first few years of pre-clinical animal research, which sometimes produces data that is irrelevant in the human setting.

How can researchers access human tissue?

The most widely cited barrier preventing the uptake of human tissue-based approaches is a lack of access to a reliable source of tissue. However, substantial amounts of human tissue are available in existing repositories, biobanks, and commercial sources, suggesting that a key issue is a limited awareness regarding what human tissue resources already exist.

There are several ongoing activities in the UK and Europe to coordinate biobanking activity and provide researchers with a means to more easily identify and access collections of tissue relevant to them. One of the most developed of these is the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre. Established in 2014, this online catalogue of over 200 human sample resources in the UK (tissue banks, biorepositories, biobanks, cohort studies, clinical trials etc.) enables a quick, free and efficient route for researchers to locate appropriate samples and data to match their research needs.

Researchers can search the Directory for existing sample collections or organisations that can procure bespoke collections on their behalf. It is possible to search by a specific disease term or ‘fit and well’. An A-Z of human sample resources is also available.

The UKCRC TDCC, which is run by a dedicated team across the University of Nottingham and University College London, works to help researchers discover samples and data, help sample resources improve their data systems for sharing, and harmonise policy relating to the discovery and use of samples and data. Its creation was mandated by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration in their Vision for Human Tissue Resources. 

How can medical research charities support us?

Register your tissue banks

Contact us to find out if your funded projects are registered on the Tissue Directory. We can support registration of new tissue banks and offer advice in updating information to increase their visibility to researchers. Email [email protected]

Increase awareness of the Tissue Directory

If you would like to share any news from the UKCRC TDCC, encourage tissue banks to register on the Tissue Directory, or tell researchers about it, we would be pleased to provide some text copy – please get in contact.

Help recognise the impact of tissue banks

The contribution made by tissue banks in health research is not well evidenced. Acknowledging tissue banks in reporting to research funders is one mechanism we can harness to improve this. Over 100 UK funders use Researchfish to capture outputs from projects they fund, offering powerful reporting potential. The UKCRC TDCC has produced a guide for researchers on how to easily (and quickly!) acknowledge the tissue banks from which they have obtained samples.