Mission & History

The mission of NDRI is to provide human biospecimens worldwide to advance biomedical/bioscience research and development and education in the life sciences.

Founded in 1980 by Lee Ducat, the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that provides human biospecimens to scientists in academic, corporate and independent research organizations throughout the world. We serve as a Human Tissue and Organ for Research Resource (HTORR). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has supported our work for more than 30 consecutive years. Our unparalleled tissue recovery network includes some 130 partners comprised of organ procurement organizations, eye banks, tissue banks and hospitals, and our biorepository facility is accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP). Utilizing the expertise of NDRI staff and that of our recovery partners, we provide anatomical structures, organs, and tissues with annotated data to support research across the full spectrum of disease and disability.

Since our founding, we have been committed to expanding the horizons of medical knowledge. We continue to do so today, with an array of programs designed to provide human tissues and organs to meet critical research needs. We are grateful for the support we receive from the National Institutes of Health and other public and private funding sources, from our expansive nationwide network of recovery partners, and through the generosity of patients and families who want to contribute to finding answers to today’s most pressing biomedical challenges.

Click Here to see our history timeline and milestones that shaped our mission!

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1980 - National Diabetes Research Interchange

With a grant from the Pew Memorial Trust, Lee Ducat launches the National Diabetes Research Interchange prototype as a program of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International to provide human pancreas tissue for research. 

1981 - First Tissue Retrieval

NDRI retrieves its first human tissue — a placenta and umbilical cord from a diabetic mother — and delivers the tissue to scientists at the Connective Tissue Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.

1982 - Biorepository Established

Presbyterian-University of Pennsylvania Hospital agrees to house NDRI’s human biomaterial.

1984 - NDRI Receives First Grant

NDRI receives its first grant award from the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to serve as a research resource to the National Institutes of Health, and also opens two satellite centers to aid pancreatic islet cell research.

1985 - Islet Cell Transplantation Trials

NDRI provides human pancreas tissues for clinical trials on islet cell transplantation at Washington University in St. Louis.

1986 - NDRI Expands Mission

The National Diabetes Research Interchange becomes the National Disease Research Interchange, serving over 80 different diseases and putting the skills, expertise and unique business systems it had developed to work for the broader biomedical research community.

1987 - Human Tissue Collection Center

The National Cancer Institute support establishes a Human Tissue Collection Center at NDRI, and NDRI receives its first Human Tissues and Organs for Research Resources (HTORR) grant from the National Institutes of Health, which continues to support us today.

1988 - Human Biological Data Interchange

NDRI founder and president Lee Ducat launches the Human Biological Data Interchange (HBDI) with a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and begins to recruit “special case families” for research into the etiology and pathogenesis of diabetes and other diseases.

1995 - NDRI Corporate Partners Program

NDRI launches the Corporate Partners Program, which provides highly customized biospecimen procurement services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology partners.

1996 - First International Partnership

NDRI launches its first international corporate partnership with HAB Research Organization in Japan.

2004 - Cystic Fibrosis Funding

NDRI receives funding to support the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation’s effort to provide a reliable source of explanted CF lungs for research and drug development, ultimately leading to development of Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ FDA-approved Kalydeco®.

2005 - 25th Anniversary Celebration

NDRI marks its 25th anniversary with a celebration honoring Paul Lacy, MD, PhD, founding chairman of NDRI from Washington University.

2006 - National Rare Disease Partnership

NDRI launches the National Rare Disease Partnership, partnering with 25 voluntary health organizations to create donor and investigator registries to procure and provide biospecimens for research on rare diseases.

2007 - Pancreas Network Partnership

NDRI partners with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes to provide pancreas and related tissues from organ donors for research into the development of Type 1 Diabetes in an effort to prevent or cure the disease.

2008 - NIH Funding Supplement

NDRI receives a funding supplement to its Human Tissues and Organs for Research Resource Grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Rare Disease Research.

2010 - Genotype Research Pilot

NDRI receives funding to serve as the tissue procurement partner for the pilot National Institutes of Health Common Fund’s Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Project.

2012 - Leinweber Named President & CEO

In September 2012, the NDRI Board of Directors appointed William (Bill) Leinweber as President and CEO. Leinweber is a recognized leader in advocacy for medical and health research and critical public health issues. Prior to joining NDRI, he held senior leadership positions with the American Heart Association, Research!America and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

2013 - ALS Collaborations

NDRI begins to collaborate with the Veterans Administration Biorepository Brain Bank and the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry/McKing Consulting Corporation to recover specimens from donors with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

2014 - TBI and Tumor Partnerships

NDRI partners with the Henry Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Science to provide biospecimens for research on traumatic brain injury in veterans and with the Children’s Tumor Foundation for post-mortem tissue recovery services from registered donors for research on neurofibromatosis.

2015 - “Donation to Discovery” Symposium

NDRI celebrates 35 years with a scientific symposium, “From Donation to Discovery: The Critical Role of Human Tissue in Research” and presents the inaugural D. Walter Cohen, DDS, Service to Science Award to Dr. Cohen, a chair emeritus of the NDRI Board of Directors.

2016 - CAP Accreditation

NDRI undergoes the College of American Pathologists’ Biorepository Accreditation process and receives a three-year accreditation — testament that we manage biospecimens to the highest scientific standards.

2016 - Service of Science Award to Dr. Bennet Omalu

Featuring the real-life doctor portrayed by Will Smith in the film Concussion, 2015 who took on the NFL with his discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and its effect on professional athletes. Dr. Omalu  was awarded with NDRI's D. Walter Cohen, DDS Service to Science Award for his advocacy on the the importance of access to quality human biospecimens to advance scientific research on CTE, brain injury and other neurological diseases.

2018 - Service of Science Award to Dr. Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health

NDRI was thrilled to honor Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the D. Walter Cohen Service to Science Award in 2018. Dr. Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist, is noted for landmark discoveries of disease causing mutations for cystic fibrosis, and his leadership role in the 2003 completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. In his role as Director of the NIH, Dr. Collins oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

2018 - HTORR Grant Renewal as well as HIV, Autism, and Alzheimer’s Supplements

In August 2018, the NIH awarded NDRI with a five-year $6.5 million grant for the recovery of human tissues and organs for research. The HTORR award was followed by an additional $800,000, a series of supplemental grants providing support for NDRI to serve as a human biospecimen resource for research focused specifically on Alzheimer’s disease, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and HIV/AIDS.

2019 - NDRI announces NDRI & AOPO Empowering Research and Discovery Award

NDRI was proud to announce the NDRI & AOPO Empowering Research and Discovery Award and honor the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) with the innaugural award.  This award will be given annually to recognize the organ procurement organizations committed to advancing research. 

2021 - NDRI Launches $12 Million Developmental Genotype-Tissue Expression Project

NDRI along with partners at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the University of Maryland’s Medicine Department of Pediatrics, and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital received a research grant of $12.5M over five years to collaborate on the developmental Genotype‐Tissue Expression (dGTEx) project. The dGTEx project will establish the first comprehensive public resource correlating gene expression and genetic variation in pediatric tissues from all major organ systems in the human body.

2022 - Service to Science Awards

NDRI announced the awardees at our Service to Science event. Dr. Katalin Karikó and Dr. Drew Weissman, the scientists who led the research and technology development for the therapeutic use of mRNA, received NDRI’s 2022 Empowering Research and Discovery Award. This award honors individuals whose contributions and leadership have helped advance critically needed research.

NDRI is a Not-For-Profit (501c3) Corporation.