A tissue bank, also known as a biobank, is a facility which collects and stores human tissue or other biological material. This can be for potential medical research, education and training, screening and diagnostics, or allograft transplantation.

Why do we need tissue banks?

The necessity of cadavers for teaching medical students about anatomy and physiology, as well as for the research of certain conditions, means that tissue banks rely on donated bodies. This is commonly referred to as “leaving your body to science”. Policies and procedures at different facilities may vary, but generally, there is no age limit as long as there was consent from the donor or the donor’s legal representative. There is usually a shortage of cadavers, so bodies are unlikely to be turned away unless they are not a full body (those that have donated organs cannot be used), there is a high level of decomposition (bodies must be donated as soon as possible), or there are concerns regarding the contagious disease. There can be time restrictions on how long the body can be stored, or a body can be donated for an indefinite period, in which case it will be used for as long as it is still a suitable teaching or research source. Donating your body to medical science is a generous act, particularly as teaching medical students using real cadavers is far more effective as a learning tool than a computer simulation, creating better doctors and medical professionals for future generations.

What type of samples can be stored?

As well as larger samples, smaller samples may also be found at tissue banks, such as frozen tumours, blood and plasma, bones and bone marrow, organs, and many more sample types that could be of scientific value. These are often used both nationally and internationally for the advancement of peer-reviewed research into diagnostic methods, treatments and cures for a multitude of diseases, including cancer research. Some tissue banks may be specialist to a particular area of research or type of tissue, while others may be more general and facilitate many uses and research projects.

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