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):
- read ‘licences for research’ in section 22 to learn when you need an HFEA research licence
- learn more about applying for an HFEA research licence.
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.
Our e-learning provides a good overview of human tissue legislation and how it applies for research in the UK:
- Research and human tissue legislation e-learning
- Research and human tissue legislation assessment – England, Wales and N. Ireland
- Research and human tissue legislation assessment – Scotland
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:
- Human tissue and biological samples for use in research which explains MRC’s expectations for research involving biological samples (for all MRC-funded research)
- Framework on the feedback of health-related findings in research which is guidance to help you decide whether and how to feedback any health-related findings to participants
- Good research resource hub which contains UKRI guidance, policies and standards on research ethics and integrity.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: 5 January 2024