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Yale Pathology’s Legacy Tissue Donation Program

Just as you can help save lives by becoming an organ donor, you can help advance cancer and other biomedical research by participating in the Legacy Tissue Donation Program.

Individual patients, patient groups, and research scientists are all interested in promoting research that advances our understanding of health and human disease. But all three face obstacles. Below we describe the research process and some of the obstacles that altruistic patients and researchers face.

Biomedical Research Process

Medical scientists develop new treatments in a three-step process:

  1. Basic science research is performed in high-tech medical laboratories and leads to a better understanding of how biological processes work in all kinds of human organs and systems.
  2. This new information is used to design potential new treatments or preventive approaches for cancer and other diseases.
  3. These new approaches are tested in carefully designed clinical trials to see if they are safe and effective.

Obstacles to Patient Participation in Biomedical Research

The enormous costs and technical sophistication of the first two steps in the process mean that most patients, no matter how much they want to help in cancer research, can only participate in the third step, clinical trials. And for patients with many conditions, even the options for clinical trials are limited. The first two steps – basic research and the developing new therapies – are primarily carried out by specialized researchers with support from federal and private funding sources, and by pharmaceutical companies. Thus, while patients here at Yale reap the benefits of the groundbreaking research being done every day in the medical school and university labs, they have little opportunity to contribute directly to these efforts.

Obstacles to Human Research

There are many avenues by which we learn about the biology of human illnesses like cancer, autoimmune disease, and neurodegenerative disease, but translating the lessons we learn into treatments that have direct benefits to future patients requires us to look directly at human tissue affected by these diseases. While medical laboratories may have the latest technology, they have extremely limited access to human tissue. Thus, much of the most cutting-edge research relies on so-called ‘preclinical’ models such as animal models and cell cultures. Human tissue of any kind is an invaluable but incredibly scarce resource that cannot be purchased at any price. And human tissue donated by patients who have had comprehensive care and treatment, sometimes as part of a clinical trial, is rarer still. This is where you can help.

The Program

Patients who enroll in our Program agree to donate tissue to researchers after their deaths. They can limit what tissue they donate, and they can change their minds about donation at any time, for any reason. This final, selfless act will have a direct impact on basic medical research by providing scientists with tissue that they can obtain in no other way. Programs like this have been in existence for more than 20 years and have already led to significant advances in our understanding and treatment of many types of cancer and countless other diseases.

If you or a family member is interested in enrolling in the program or discussing your options further, please contact Dr. Harold Sanchez, Program Director, or Dr. Marcello DiStasio, Program Co-Director.

Research Information

The Yale Legacy Tissue Donation Program serves as a bridge between patients and biomedical researchers with the aim of providing the highest quality tissue samples using collection methods most appropriate for each individual experimental laboratory. The availability of tissue through the Yale Legacy Rapid Tissue Donation Program from patients is a unique and valuable resource that is available to investigators with highly impactful and feasible scientific projects that further understanding of human disease.

To this end, and in strict accordance with patient directives, tissue samples are obtained with minimal ischemic intervals (typically 1-3 hours). The Legacy Tissue Donation Program works with researchers to establish customized collection and preservation methods that maximize the utility of tissue for their studies. Tissue quality is evaluated by pathologists, and anatomic or clinical criteria appropriate to the research study are closely followed.

We are able to assist with planning of experimental tissue management and preparation of materials for submission to the Yale IRB for project approval. We can also assist with identifying collaborating clinical colleagues to assist with recruitment and informed consent.

To get started or for more information, contact Dr. Harold Sanchez, Program Director, or Dr. Marcello DiStasio, Program Co-Director.

Yale Pathology Legacy Tissue Donation Program FAQs

Can I change my mind about my decision to donate tissue?
Yes. Your donation is completely voluntary. You can change your mind at any time, for any reason.
Will my donor status affect the medical care that I receive?
No. You will receive the best care possible whether you decide to enroll as a donor or not.
Will the tissue donation process delay funeral arrangements?
No. The tissue donation procedure is performed quickly but with respect for the dignity of the donor. It usually takes a few hours and does not typically interfere with funeral arrangements.
I would like to have a viewing as part of the funeral. Can I still have one after the tissue donation?
Yes. In every case, the tissue donation process is carefully performed in a way that allows for a viewing.