Science Questions

Can I donate my living body to research?

Tue, 22nd Apr 2014

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Em Green asked:

Can I donate my living body to research?


Hannah - So, we know that once dead, you can donate your brain and body to Stained lung tissuescience, but what about getting involved in research whilst your still alive? For the answer, we turn to Kate McAllister, a doctorial researcher at Cambridge University.

Kate - So, there are loads of ways in which you can donate your living body to science. In the most, kind of, straightforward way, you can donate your time to take part in research studies. So, that can be as simple as filling out a questionnaire, helping take part in psychological studies. People are always looking for help with that. The easiest way to go about that is to contact your local university psychology department, and the good thing about that is that most volunteers are also paid for their time for that.

If you wanted to be more literal and, “Can I donate my body to science?” you can definitely donate tissue to some research studies. So, part of the project that I'm doing just now, I'm interested in cellular energy. So, how our bodies make energy and how that can later link to dementia, the onset of dementia. So, the best way to look at cell energy is to look at tissue that really is highly dependent on energy. So, what we look at is muscle. So basically, we set this up with the ethics committee and we make sure we go through all the right procedures and then we get people to come up to the hospital and to donate a tiny, tiny bit of their muscle in a sort of outpatient procedure that takes half an hour. Another way that you may be able to donate your tissue to research is if you're for example in hospital having a diagnostic procedure done, the surgeon may ask beforehand if you wanted to consent to hav,e whilst they're in there, grab another little bit of tissue and then that can be sent to a tissue bank and later used for research. So for example, if you were to have surgery for cancer on a tumour, the surgeon may ask to take an extra piece or to use a piece of that in research and that would all be anonymised.

Hannah - Thanks, Kate. So yes, you can donate your living body to research by participating in a study, getting your brain scanned whilst solving a puzzle for example or simply sitting next to a computer and taking part in a survey. Quite often, you'll be paid for your time and you can walk home with a memento, so a snapshot of your brain perhaps. You can even volunteer to take part in a clinical trial, acting as a guinea pig to help test out new pharmacological drugs. Again, you'll be paid for this or you can donate tissue as part of an existing surgical procedure that you're already having or as a special one-off.

You can find out more about donating both your living and dead bodies to research by looking at your local university’s science and psychology websites for details or by visiting the website


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