Thursday, 20 November 2014

Human Tissue for Research

Over lunch at the Arthritis Alliance Conference I sat down with a friend and we found that our table companions were scientists who work with human tissue in their lab. They were actually the first "real" scientists I have met in person. All of the other researchers I know do work on eHealth ethics, psychosocial adjustment to chronic disease, or trials to determine effects and efficacy of various types of drugs.

With determined and nosey questioning we found out that there are some obstacles involved in the smooth flow of their work. They use human tissue and with all so many regulations it is not easy to obtain it easily to use in laboratory research. The two of us immediately volunteered to help them with donations because they can use tissue that is removed in joint replacement or joint surgery.

I have two joint surgeries in my future because of problems with my knuckles and with my foot, and it turns out my surgery will be in a hospital where they have a connection. This is not really a good solution for them though. They took great pains to tell me and Marilyn that they are restricted from actively soliciting tissue donations for their research.

Being proactive the two of us had a number of ideas involving supporters tweeting about their dilemma, or having passive websites where people could volunteer if they wanted to help. Really, the only thing I would worry about in donating would be the very slim chance that a discovery that I helped with would be patented and sold for a huge cost to enrich a few.

This whole discussion really hit home with me when three of the speakers after lunch talked about using tissue for their amazing and in some cases breakthrough discoveries.

The first speaker was Sir Marc Feldman whose talk was titled "Beyond anti-TNF Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis".  He said "To study human disease we need human tissue" and commented on ways that monitoring human immune response might help to reduce infection risk.  

I'm sure you would rather see Sir Marc Feldman and Sir Ravinder Maini, the discoverers of anti-TNF drugs, than a sample of what is named in the title of the post

Then we heard from Dr. Lawrence Steinman on The Road Not Taken where he talked about how human biomarkers can thin down the crowd and make therapy more successful. He does not want to use a "big axe" on autoimmune disease.

Dr. Aled Edwards then gave us insights about what is slowing research down. He says the system does not encourage innovation and he got a big laugh when he said "Scientists like to fondle their problems". He talked about a partnership where ten pharma companies contributed $8 million each to produce molecules which were given to interested researchers to stimulate discoveries. They profile them in assays based on human tissues. "Human tissues seem to be the key".

It would be helpful if we could bring the issue of tissue donation into the public eye, since I am sure many of us would be willing to help with research, even in such a basic way as this.

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