3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences

Faculteit Dierengeneeskunde

November 2017
VitalTissue: Facilitating the use of vital human tissue to replace and reduce animal testing

VitalTissue is an initiative that aims to make hospital-derived viable human tissue available for researchers in the life sciences. The goal of the initiative is improving the translational value of fundamental and applied research to various applications, like drug development or safety testing. Therefore, VitalTissue has the potential to contribute substantially to the replacement and reduction of animal testing. In order to accomplish this, VitalTissue brings together patients, researchers and hospitals. One of the initiators of the platform is dr. Cyrille Krul, professor Innovative Testing in Life Sciences & Chemistry, at the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (HU).

Before she joined the HU, Cyrille Krul worked at TNO, where she initiated the plan for VitalTissue together with colleagues within the academic and non-academic field[1]. The need for viable human tissue was clear: “Cell lines and animal models that are currently used in research often lack translational value for specific research questions”, says Krul. “In these cases, human vital tissue can probably provide a more reliable model.” Krul and her colleagues identified the challenge that many researchers have: researchers prefer the use of viable human tissue, but usually don’t have access to supply chains and miss the appropriate infrastructure. This is where VitalTissue comes in. It provides the infrastructure to connect both supply and demand for viable human tissue, anywhere in the Netherlands.

Viable human tissue, accessible to all researchers         
An important goal of VitalTissue is to make viable human tissue available for all researchers. “In academic hospitals, researchers sometimes have arrangements with colleagues from other divisions in order to obtain the tissues they need,” explains Krul. “VitalTissue aims to connect non-academic hospitals as well, to facilitate the supply and necessary infrastructure for all researchers in academic as well as non-academic institutes, including researchers in the industry and at CROs.

The platform is additional to the already existing biobanks, which provide primarily diseased tissue. The material from biobanks is prepared/embedded, conserved and/or frozen. VitalTissue will offer viable, non-frozen human tissue. This is surgical left-over tissue that is donated by patients. This tissue may be used for both fundamental research as well as clinical applications and regulatory testing. Better availability of viable human tissue will lead to an increase in the use of human material as a model, for example for drug development or safety testing. Working with viable human tissue provides the opportunity to answer questions that cannot easily be studied with current in vitro or animal models.                                          
Tackling a wide range of challenges          
The initiators conducted a questionnaire to assess if patients are willing to donate surgical left-over tissue for research. The results showed that 94% of the respondents is indeed willing to donate.[2] In the next steps, the initiators are planning to carry out a feasibility study. Along the way, they have already realized that challenges related to different fields of expertise have to be tackled. For example, regarding the quality and safety of the material, logistics associated with transportation of the tissue, ethical and legal aspects, such as privacy of the patient and the database needs to be guaranteed. The answers cannot be provided by a single person, or even a single organisation. That is why the initiative grew to be a consortium with representatives from different fields of expertise, that together provide the know-how to address these issues. On top of that, students contribute as well. “For example, within our University of Applied Sciences, we bring together students from life sciences and chemistry, business, ethics, and marketing & communication, to work together on the challenges of VitalTissue,” says Krul. “They provide us with loads of fresh ideas, which really stimulates the process.

Ways to support the VitalTissue initiative           
There are many ways to be involved with VitalTissue. For example, in order for the platform to succeed, it is important that the supply will meet the demands of researchers. Therefore, Krul invites Dutch readers of this article to let VitalTissue know what type of tissue they either require or offer. There are also other ways to support the initiative, for example by becoming a member of the advisory group or by spreading information about VitalTissue within your organisation. If you are interested in any type of collaboration, let them know. Krul: “We are really motivated to realize this initiative, because we can help an enormous number of researchers doing better science. This will result in products being safer, new products accepted more quickly and, very importantly, a substantial reduction in the use of animals for research.

If you would like to read more about VitalTissue, we recommend the following publications. Also, take a look at their (Dutch) website: VitalTissue.nl, or contact Cyrille Krul directly: cyrille.krul@hu.nl.

VitalTissue: a fresh human tissue supply chain to enable translational research. M. Fentener van Vlissingen, G. Groothuis, J.A. van Hilten, C.A.M. Krul, E.B. van Veen, B. van de Waart. Feb 2017 (White paper)
[2] VitalTissue: a fresh human tissue supply chain to enable translational research. (2017) C. Krul, M. Fentener van Vlissingen, G. Grootaers, G. Groothuis, J. van Hilten, T. Luimes, D. Schut, E. van de Steeg, E.B. van Veen, B. van de Waart, P. Wolbers, W. Zeeman (Poster)
Further reading:
  • NL: Hoe de inzet van vers humaan weefsel in translationeel onderzoek kan bijdragen aan de vermindering van dierproeven (Biotechniek 56-3, 2017)
  • Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2014: Human bodies: donation for medicine and research (Report)