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Obtaining explicit consent for the use of archival tissue samples: practical issues
  1. P N Furness1,
  2. M L Nicholson2
  1. 1Department of Pathology, Leicester General Hospital, Leicester, UK
  2. 2Department of Transplant Surgery, Leicester General Hospital, Leicester, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor P N Furness
 Departments of Pathology, Leicester General Hospital, Gwendolen Road, Leicester LE5 4PW, UK;


Background:: Over the past few years, research ethics committees have increasingly demanded explicit consent before archival tissue samples can be used in research projects. Current UK guidance in this area requires an assessment of whether it is “practical” to obtain explicit consent. Ethics committees have little experience or evidence to help them to judge what is “practical” in this context.

Methods:: We attempted to obtain general consent for research use of surplus tissue from renal transplant biopsies from the entire patient population of the renal transplant unit in Leicester. The nature of this patient population would be expected to facilitate this task.

Results:: A total of 495 letters were sent. Attempts were made to contact non-responders when they attended the outpatient clinic. One year after the initiation of the project, the opinions of 26% of the patients had still not been ascertained.

Conclusions:: The results confirm that the vast majority of patients are happy for “surplus” biopsy material to be used for research; the situation does not parallel the use of autopsy tissue. A requirement to obtain explicit consent for the study of archival tissue is likely, however, to block or at least seriously delay research, which is contrary to the public interest and specifically may harm the interests of the patients concerned. In the UK, the problem of tissue being used against the wishes of the donor has now been largely replaced by the problem of prohibition of tissue use against the wishes of the donor.

  • GPs, general medical practitioners
  • NHS, National Health Service
  • RECs, research ethics committees
  • archive
  • consent
  • pathology
  • research ethics committee
  • tissue
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  • Disclaimers/declaration of interest: The authors are involved in non-commercial biomedical research using archival tissue samples.

  • Sources of support: National Health Service (NHS) Research and Development.

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