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BMJ Open. 2013 Aug 7;3(8). pii: e003056. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003056.

Public views on the donation and use of human biological samples in biomedical research: a mixed methods study.

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Unit 4D, Genetic Alliance UK, London, UK.



A mixed methods study exploring the UK general public's willingness to donate human biosamples (HBSs) for biomedical research.


Cross-sectional focus groups followed by an online survey.


Twelve focus groups (81 participants) selectively sampled to reflect a range of demographic groups; 1110 survey responders recruited through a stratified sampling method with quotas set on sex, age, geographical location, socioeconomic group and ethnicity.


(1) Identify participants' willingness to donate HBSs for biomedical research, (2) explore acceptability towards donating different types of HBSs in various settings and (3) explore preferences regarding use and access to HBSs.


87% of survey participants thought donation of HBSs was important and 75% wanted to be asked to donate in general. Responders who self-reported having some or good knowledge of the medical research process were significantly more likely to want to donate (p<0.001). Reasons why focus group participants saw donation as important included: it was a good way of reciprocating for the medical treatment received; it was an important way of developing drugs and treatments; residual tissue would otherwise go to waste and they or their family members might benefit. The most controversial types of HBSs to donate included: brain post mortem (29% would donate), eyes post mortem (35%), embryos (44%), spare eggs (48%) and sperm (58%). Regarding the use of samples, there were concerns over animal research (34%), research conducted outside the UK (35%), and research conducted by pharmaceutical companies (56%), although education and discussion were found to alleviate such concerns.


There is a high level of public support and willingness to donate HBSs for biomedical research. Underlying concerns exist regarding the use of certain types of HBSs and conditions under which they are used. Improved education and more controlled forms of consent for sensitive samples may mitigate such concerns.



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