Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Allocation of scarce biospecimens for use in research
  1. Leah Pierson1,
  2. Sophia Gibert2,
  3. Benjamin Berkman3,
  4. Marion Danis3,
  5. Joseph Millum4
  1. 1 MD-PhD Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2 PhD Program in Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3 Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  4. 4 Clinical Center Department of Bioethics/Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Leah Pierson, MD-PhD Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA; leah_pierson{at}


Hundreds of millions of rare biospecimens are stored in laboratories and biobanks around the world. Often, the researchers who possess these specimens do not plan to use them, while other researchers limit the scope of their work because they cannot acquire biospecimens that meet their needs. This situation raises an important and underexplored question: how should scientists allocate biospecimens that they do not intend to use? We argue that allocators should aim to maximise the social value of the research enterprise when allocating scarce biospecimens. We provide an ethical framework for assessing the social value of proposed research projects and describe how the framework could be implemented.

  • allocation of health care resources
  • donation/procurement of organs/tissues
  • ethics
  • research ethics
  • resource allocation

Data availability statement

There are no data in this work.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • LP and SG are joint first authors.

  • Twitter @leah_pierson

  • Contributors All authors contributed substantially to the conception of the work and development of the arguments. LP and SG drafted the manuscript. JM made substantial revisions to the manuscript. All authors contributed to revision and gave final approval of the version to be published.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.