The UK's Human Tissue Authority (HTA) has announced the launch of a consultation programme on a new code of practice for the storage of human tissue. This is the first code of practice to apply to the storage of tissue specifically for research purposes and includes stem cells, which have been used in clinical trials to treat a variety of diseases and regenerative medicine, but have also raised a number of ethical issues; particularly those derived from embryos and aborted fetuses.
The HTA regulates the storage of human tissue for research under the Human Tissue Act in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and was set up as the Competent Authority under the European Union Tissue and Cells Directive, which is effective throughout the UK. In its two years of operation, The HTA has gained experience and valuable insight into a variety of issues regarding storage and use of human tissue after receiving helpful feedback from its stakeholders. Adrian McNeil, Chief Executive of the HTA, said that 'the next step is to get the views of the research community on our revised codes, and in particular on the new code on research'. He added: 'We want the comments of stakeholders so that we can make the codes as clear and useful as possible'. In addition to the one on research, there are six other codes of practice that relate to other issues, including consent and the disposal of human tissue.
The public consultation runs from 1 August until 14 November 2008. It invites comments on any issues raised by the codes, but in particular hopes to confirm whether they are comprehensible and provide appropriately broad guidance. Furthermore, the consultation seeks clarification that the guidelines distinguish clearly between best practice and what is legally required of storage establishments. The overall aim of the consultation and subsequent codes is to improve standards for the storage of human tissue for research purposes in order that greater public confidence may be achieved and in turn help encourage people to donate their tissue for research.