The issue with tissue: why making human biomaterials available for research purposes is still controversial

  • Nils Hoppe
    Nils Hoppe Dr. iur. LL.B Professor, Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany. Conflicts of interest: The author does not consider that he has financial or personal relationships with other people or organisations that could inappropriately influence the content of this article. In the interests of transparency it is disclosed that he is a member of the scientific advisory boards of two large-scale research projects dealing with human biomaterials (ESPOIR; STEMBANCC), the latter being part-funded and partially carried out by members of EFPIA
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Published:August 08, 2013DOI:


      Making human tissue samples, or cells, available for research is not a trivial undertaking. Depending on where these materials come from, their use might be limited. Existing collections of diagnostic archives which are to be made available for a subsequent research use are excellent examples of research resources which give rise to a plethora of ethical and legal problems. Many of these problems are rooted in misperceptions, based on anecdotal accounts of scandals and dishonesty, but are mirrored in jurisprudence and public debate. This paper will outline some aspects of using human tissue for research purposes that have been discussed in international literature and deemed particularly problematic, try to identify the cross-cutting ethical and legal problems and, finally, contrast these with case law. It concludes that the issue is one of control rights, the relinquishing of which can only work in a sustained fashion if there is a sufficient degree of transparency and openness in the research community.


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