Using human samples in research - MRC

How can I access human biological samples?

You can search the UKCRC tissue directory, to discover human samples available for use in research.

Human tissue law

In the UK, the law which applies for using human samples in research depends on the type of samples that you will work with; and what you intend to do with them.

If your research involves human or admixed embryos, then you may need a research licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA):

For any other research involving human samples, the Human Tissue Act or Human Tissue (Scotland) Act may apply. Our e-learning and summaries focus on these two Acts and how they apply for research. If you are developing a cell or tissue-based therapy, then human application requirements apply. You can learn more about these requirements in the Human Tissue Authority’s guidance on Human Application.

Learning resources

Our e-learning provides a good overview of human tissue legislation and how it applies for research in the UK:

Human tissue legislation summaries

You can read more about the human tissue legislation in our guidance summary documents.

Guidance and resources

You can find further information on MRC and UKRI policy and standards for using human samples in research on the following pages:

Using samples from colleagues

There are legal and ethical requirements when using samples from colleagues (just as there are for any research participant). For example there are specific biological safety issues, which must be addressed with your local Health and Safety Officer.

In terms of ethical requirements, a Research Ethics Committee (REC) review should be sought and take into consideration:

  • how fully informed, freely given consent will be obtained
  • how any feedback of health-related findings might be handled
  • how colleagues’ confidentiality will be protected.

If you are based in one of our MRC units or institutes we provide guidance for staff asked to volunteer blood or other samples.

Samples and health data

Samples become richer and more useful for research when linked to health data, which means that you may also need to consider how data protection and confidentiality law applies to your research. You can find further guidance in Using data about people in research.

Still have a question?

If you have a specific question about the use of human samples in research which we haven’t answered here, email:

Last updated: 5 January 2024

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