Case Study: Accessing tissue through international collaborations

Professor Clive Page is Professor of Pharmacology, and Director of the Sackler Institute of Pulmonary Pharmacology at King’s College London.

Clive's research focuses on the pharmacology of inflammation and respiratory diseases. In 2006 he co-founded Verona Pharma plc, to develop new pharmacotherapeutics for respiratory diseases.

As asthma is a uniquely human condition affecting the lung, it is ideal to test potential new therapies in human tissue early in development. 

We are carrying out two types of experiment that require human tissue. Biopsies and culture explants from diseased and healthy volunteers enable us to look at asthmatic vs. healthy lung, while access to whole lobes of lung enables us to study airways, and their response to drugs, in an organ bath setting as well as being able to perform video microscopy on the tissue. 

“Work with human tissue has helped us to develop a drug to treat asthma and COPD which is now undergoing clinical trials.”

We found that our collaborators in Rome had much better access to larger sections of lung than we did. This is because most of the larger sections of tissue we use come from thoracotomies, where they remove a significant amount of healthy tissue from around the edge of the diseased area. More thoracotomies are carried out by the hospitals we have links to, than in those local to my lab in the UK, where they prefer less invasive diagnostic techniques.

This prompted me to situate one of my post-doc researchers in the city. He is able to collect tissue himself straight from the operating theatre and we get lung tissue weekly using this set up. Utilising tissue from the UK, as well as tissue from Italy has meant us having to deal with ethics and regulatory agencies in both countries, however obtaining the correct ethical approval and licences has been a very straight-forward process and we currently have ethics approval at three separate Italian hospitals, as well as the necessary licenses gained through the UK Human Tissue Authority. 

“We have had ten publications resulting from our human tissue work.”

Many researchers have suggested that publishing human tissue-based research can be difficult, and cite this as a barrier to adopting this approach. 

Our experience has been quite the opposite. We have published ten articles on our human tissue work over the last ten years, in journals such as American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and the British Journal of Pharmacology. 

Most importantly we have developed a new drug which is currently undergoing human clinical trials, in part based on studies with human lung tissues that predicted the efficacy of the drug in patients.  Such work gave us a degree  of confidence that we had discovered a drug that would offer benefit to patients, above and beyond the work we had carried out in laboratory animals.

3Rs impact statement

  • Wider use of human tissue reduces the need for tissues from experimental animals and is therefore to be strongly encouraged.

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