Frequently Asked Questions

Human Tissue Requests

Please read this document prior to completing the researcher application. If you have additional questions not answered below, please call NDRI’s Research Services Manager at 800-222-6374.

Is there a fee associated with the samples NDRI provides?

  • Yes, there are fees associated with samples. All tissues are freely donated by individuals or their next of kin for research purposes. The fees associated with tissues reflect the infrastructure required to match samples with researchers, and to procure, process, and ship tissues. Also, there are additional charges depending on how you would like your samples preserved and if you require serology testing.

Do I need IRB approval for my project?

  • IRB approval is not required for researchers receiving tissue samples from either autopsy or transplant donors. NDRI does require an exemption letter indicating that your institution is aware that you are working with human specimens and that universal precautions will be strictly followed. Researchers interested in obtaining surgical discards must provide proof of IRB approval to use de-identified patient samples.

Do you have a catalog of samples you source?

  • As we procure samples on a custom basis, we do not have a specific catalog with a comprehensive listing. Our organization has the ability to procure most types of tissues, and we encourage you to contact our research services department to discuss your interests. We do have certain specimens available in our online biospecimen catalog, including various rare disease tissues.

How are tissues offered in the Online Biospecimens Catalogue (OBC) preserved?

  • In the OBC you may find biospecimens preserved as frozen, snap frozen, fixed, embedded in paraffin blocks or in a cryomold with OCT media.

What type of information is included in the OBC?

  • Once in the specified category, for each tissue listed you'll be given the following information: item quantity, item size, disease type, source of tissue, hours post mortem/surgery, inventory date, preservation method, age, race, sex, and cause of death/surgery. A detailed medical history will be provided to enable you to determine whether the tissue meets your specific criteria, when a tissue is requested.

Can you provide a confirmation of your services for a grant application?

  • Yes. NDRI is happy to provide a letter of support for your grant application. Please ask to speak with our Research Services Manager for specifics.

What do I need to know about handling tissue samples?

  • Serological testing is available for all autopsy and transplant donors, and NDRI does not knowingly ship tissues harboring infectious diseases (exception, NDRI's HIV research program). However, testing does not guarantee safety, and human tissues may harbor unknown infectious agents. Therefore, all human tissue samples should always be handled using standard universal precautions.

What information about potential donors is needed when completing the application?

  • Carefully consider all contraindications for a potential donor. A clear set of instructions on disease states, infections, or other conditions which would exclude an individual from the potential donor pool is vital to making accurate tissue matches. We will work with you to develop as accurate a donor profile as possible. When we make tissue matches for your research, the donor profiles based on the information in the application we received are the only criteria we have. Therefore, we strive to work with you to create the most accurate donor profiles possible.

What age donors do you encounter most frequently?

  • The majority of our donors are older. Requests for specific age ranges are always accepted, although potential donors in younger age categories may not be as common. Making your request as liberal as possible in regards to age will increase the potential donor matches we are able to make.

What other criteria could affect my request for tissues?

  • Please consider if donors who have recently undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer would be criteria for exclusion. Also indicate whether you will accept tissues from donors currently septic or with various infections. The broader your selection criteria, the larger the potential donor pool available to you.

The application requests a type of sourcing. What would be best for my research?

  • Autopsy: These procurements offer the widest variety of tissues and provide the greatest amount of medical history. Serological testing can be performed on these donations, results usually being available within 3-7 business days of the procurement. Samples can be shipped fresh, frozen, or fixed. Autopsy tissues are typically recovered 8 or more hours post-mortem. Sterility cannot be guaranteed.
  • Surgery: Surgical resection of tissue is never performed without a medically necessary reason, so disease processes may be present in many cases. Small samples of normal adjacent tissue are available from donors with cancer. No serological data is available from surgical donations due to health privacy laws. All cancer procurements are sourced through surgical procedures.
  • Transplant: This option provides the freshest samples. Delivery is in less than 24 hours and is by special courier only. These procurements are limited to whole solid organs. Complete serological data and medical histories are available. As transplant procurements are performed under special conditions by a transplant surgical team, associated procurements and courier delivery fees are higher than for other types of procurements. Tissue is only available fresh in standard whole organ media.

What information is available about the donor?

  • The circumstances of each donor are unique. For autopsy donors, NDRI is generally provided with the time of death, age, race, sex and a medical and social history profile provided by the next of kin. Often, (but not always), the source also provides a list of acute and chronic medications, temperature readings and results of recent blood cultures. For transplant donors, all of the above information, as well as serological testing results, HLA type, and a reason that the organ was not transplanted are also provided. For surgical donors, health privacy laws greatly restrict the information that is available, so only age, sex and reason for the surgical procedure are provided. Our Rare Disease Program can sometimes obtain a more detailed medical history from the donor's physicians, but cannot guarantee any specific information. We can do HLA typing for an added fee for all types of specimens.

How can samples be preserved?

  • Fresh: Tissues are placed immediately in media (typically DMEM or RPMI) in a clean container. If desired, antibiotics may be added to inhibit bacterial growth. The sealed container is stored at 4C and shipped on ice, unless otherwise specified by the researcher.
  • Frozen: Tissues are placed in a clean container and stored at -70C. Tissues are shipped on dry ice.
  • Snap frozen: Tissues are placed in a clean container and immediately snap frozen either in liquid nitrogen or in a dry ice/ethanol bath. Tissues are stored at -70C and shipped on dry ice. There is a surcharge for this procedure.
  • OCT: Small tissue samples are placed in a specialized cassette, covered with freezing medium and snap frozen as above.
  • Fixed: Tissues are submerged in 10% buffered formalin and maintained at room temperature for storage and shipping.
  • Paraffin embedded: Tissues are fixed in 10% buffered formalin and sent to a specialized processing facility for embedding in a paraffin block. There is a surcharge for this procedure.
  • Other fixatives or media: We will order other fixatives or media for an added fee. NDRI will also distribute researcher-supplied media to its tissue procurement sources.

Do I have to set up an account for courier delivery?

  • No, NDRI arranges for all courier deliveries through its own account and bills the researcher for the exact amount at a later date. This allows NDRI to maintain control of the tissue sample until it is delivered to the researcher, allowing for more efficient handling and delivery of each package.

I have my own Federal Express account. Can you use this account for deliveries?

  • No, NDRI arranges for all packages to be delivered through its own account and bills the researcher for the exact amount at a later date. This allows NDRI to maintain control of the tissue sample until it is delivered to the researcher, allowing for more efficient handling and delivery of each package.

Should I be available in the evening or on weekends to receive tissues?

  • For fresh tissue requests, the ability to accept samples on evenings or weekends would make potential matches for samples more frequent. Please consider this option if you are requesting fresh tissues and kindly inform us if you can accept on evenings or weekends. To receive transplant tissues, we strongly recommend this option.

Can I be contacted about possible samples ahead of time?

  • Our organization has two "layers" of operation - 1) the custom procurement of samples and 2) the shipping of samples. Contact prior to procuring tissues is challenging, as our coordinators have many matches to make on potential donors in very little time, and these matches can occur at any time of the day or evening. We cannot predict when a donation will occur, and our ability to contact you at this stage of tissue procurement is the time-limiting step. We rely on accurate tissue collection protocols to assure us that we are collecting tissues that the researcher wants. The time required to contact researchers and the subsequent delays involved would make the volume of procurements we perform impossible. You will always be contacted prior to shipping, however, since that occurs on a regular schedule, often from our own lab.

How do I control the amount of samples I receive?

  • As we procure tissues on a custom basis, we can never with 100% certainty guarantee when a potential donor will become available. In your application, you will be asked the desired frequency of delivery and the projected total number of samples you may require. We procure tissues based on these projected needs, so we kindly ask that in your application you make these numbers as accurate as possible. You can make changes and adjustments at a later time, but we require 48 hours notice to make any requested changes. We cannot guarantee a minimum number of tissues within a specific time frame, however, we will not procure more tissues for you than you request in your application.

What kind of sample testing/screening can you perform?

  • For autopsy and transplant donors, serological testing is available for an additional fee. This testing typically screens for the following: HIV I/II, HBV antigen and core antibody, HCV, syphilis, and may also include screens for CMV, HTLV I and II, and West Nile virus. We can do HLA typing on all types of specimens for a fee, but transplant donors usually have this information already available. Due to health privacy laws, serological testing results are not available for tissues from surgical donors.

What types of testing and quality control is performed on samples?

  • NDRI does not perform any testing other than standard serology screens and HLA typing as outlined above. If a sample is of poor quality, NDRI will evaluate the situation and work closely with the researcher to resolve any problems.

How do I modify or change an existing protocol for tissue samples?

  • Simply call or email NDRI's research services department for any protocol changes or project information updates. Please note that it may take up to 48 hours for changes to take effect and plan your research schedule accordingly.

What should I do if a sample was incorrectly procured?

  • NDRI asks that you notify a coordinator immediately upon receipt of an incorrect or damaged tissue sample. We encourage our researchers to document any concerns with either a photograph or a detailed summary of the problem. If NDRI determines that the researcher and his employees are not at fault, full credit for the sample and shipping will be given. The situation will be discussed with the source to prevent reoccurrence of the procurement or shipping error.

I have a request for unusual or difficult samples. Could you assist me with special requests?

  • NDRI prides itself on its ability to customize tissue recoveries to meet your exact research needs. We encourage interested researchers to contact the research services department to discuss their specific needs. NDRI will make every effort to find a source for the tissues you need in a timely fashion.

Can you serve researchers outside of the United States?

  • NDRI has served a number of researchers outside of the United States, including England, Italy and Japan. Our capabilities will depend largely on the tissue preservation requested and hours postmortem that the tissue needs to arrive at the final destination. For additional details, please contact our Researcher Services department.