Case study: Accessing human tissue through UK hospitals

Professor Peter Bradding is a Clinical Professor in respiratory medicine at the University of Leicester, based at Glenfield Hospital. Peter's research on the pathobiology of asthma, focuses in particular on ion channels and mast cell-airway smooth muscle interactions.

We have been using human tissue in our research for almost 20 years, and the system in place at our institution works very well. 

“On average we receive suitable donor tissue twice a week.”

The main pieces of advice I would give are:

  • Ensure the surgeons are on board. This is easier when you are located within the same building, but measures such as exploring mutual areas of interest for collaborative research are likely to be helpful.
  • Ensure a close working relationship with the pathologists, and where possible, train laboratory staff so that they are able to remove samples from resected tissue for research when the pathologists are not available to help.

We have trained staff that monitor the scheduled operations list to identify any procedures that may result in usable tissue being removed. 

Patients are then sent a study information pack, and usually consented for research the day before surgery. Most patients give consent, and this is highlighted prominently in their file. The surgeons automatically check for this consent authorisation whenever they are performing an appropriate operation. 

The surgeons then remove the tissue, store it appropriately, and immediately contact our trained staff to collect the tissue. This is taken to the pathologists who remove what they need and pass the rest straight back to us. 

“The training of our tissue technician by a pathologist ensures that lab research using human tissue doesn’t depend on the availability of the pathologists.”

Two members of staff have been trained by the pathologists to take what is needed for research immediately and leave enough for the pathologists for times when there is no pathologist available. 

There have been no problems since we started doing this, and it ensures that lab research using human tissue does not depend on the availability of the pathologists. 

"Important physiological differences exist between the mouse and human, and many key features of respiratory diseases are not reproduced in animal models. Additionally, mouse data are sometimes misleading and can hamper significant advances in respiratory medicine. The development of anti-IL-5 therapy is a good example.”

3Rs impact statement

  • As a result of being able to access human tissue so readily, we do not need to use animals for this research.

Back to the human tissue in asthma research resource hub