Donated tissue vital for medical research, improved patient care

Donated tissue vital for medical research, improved patient care


Research is the key to discovering new treatments or cures for cancer, glaucoma, rare diseases and age-related conditions. A gift of human tissue for research is the first step to saving and enhancing thousands of lives, according to Allograft Resources, a regional tissue recovery service.

“Donation is a wonderful opportunity for any caring, compassionate person who wants to continue to help others after death,” notes Nancy Holland, Allograft’s president and CEO. “Donation for the purpose of research is a chance to contribute to the advancement of science, and one more option for families to consider after the death of a loved one.”

Many generous families consent to the donation of their loved ones’ tissue so it can be used in transplant surgeries, notes Holland. Tissue—which includes bone, skin, heart valves, connective tissue and veins—is used in more than 75,000 surgeries routinely performed each year in the United States alone.

But sometimes, the donor’s medical or physical condition prevents the tissue from qualifying for transplant use. In many cases, tissue from patients who suffered from cancer, diabetes or heart disease could be used to help researchers gather more information about these conditions.

Allograft Resources has partnered with the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) to put to work donated tissue that does not meet transplantation criteria. NDRI is a non-profit organization, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which uses non-transplantable donated tissue in research studying a variety of diseases and conditions.

NDRI spokesman Paul Volek explains there are many uses for bone and cartilage to help develop new treatments for patients with age-related bone injuries and diseases, as well as to increase understanding of diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis.

In addition, several ongoing research projects could benefit from donated skin, Volek says. “New treatments are being developed for those who suffer severe burn injuries or skin cancer. Donated skin is also instrumental in the development of effective ways to administer drugs through the skin.”

Non-transplantable organs may also be donated for research projects studying diseases, risk factors and treatments related to the heart, liver, eye, lungs, kidneys and arteries.

Holland suggests that those who have made the decision to donate—either for transplant or research—should take the following steps:

l Sign a donor card, available on several web sites, including and Designate on the card that the intention is not only to donate for transplantation purposes, but also for research and education. Two people, preferably family members, should witness the signature. Carry the card in a wallet or purse, or file with other important papers.

l Indicate donor intention with the familiar orange dot on a driver’s license. Local motor vehicle departments can explain the process.

l Have a discussion with family members to ensure they understand and support donation wishes. Emphasize that donation is desired for both the purpose of transplantation if medically eligible, and research if a suitable project is available.

“This is an opportunity for something beneficial to emerge from pain and debilitation,” says Holland. “So often, the donor is described by family members as someone who always wanted to help others. A donation may assist the medical community in making inroads to causes, treatments—and even cures—for illness, and is a way for a loved one to continue making a difference.”

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