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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 11:19 GMT
Organ scandal threatens research
Stored organs
The organ retention scandal could stop scientists finding disease cures
The search for a cures for illness such as multiple sclerosis could be put in jeopardy if people don't donate organs for research.

Leading doctors and scientists are warning that unless the organs and tissue are made available for scientific research they will not be able to make progress to beat certain key diseases.

There are concerns that following the horrifying revelation about organ stripping at Alder Hey and the fact that 100.000 organs are being retained at hospitals around the UK many people might refuse donation consent.

There has already been a fall in the number of autopsies as the news of Alder Hey and Bristol broke - they fell to just 3,800 last year.

Detrimental affect

Scientists are worried that this rate will slump even further as the full details of Alder Hey become known.

Professor James Underwood, Vice President of the Royal College of Pathologists said the effects of Alder Hey were already being felt.

"I think it has already done damage. We have noticed in our hospitals over the last year or so a substantial reduction in the number of post mortems that are being done with the consent of relatives.

"Many people engaged in research into disorders of the brain and heart for example are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain tissues for study," he said.

Professor Nicholas Wright, President of the Royal Pathological Society, warns that scientific research into illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis could be badly hampered.

Professor Nicholas Wright, President of Royal Pathological Society
Professor Nicholas Wright says research will be "hamstrung"

"Unless we have those investigations, unless we use human tissues for research, research in this country is going to be hamstrung.

"The tissues we use for that comes from autopsies. There is an MS brain bank. We don't know the cause of MS, if we stop getting tissues from multiple sclerosis autopsies we could not do research on MS," he said.

But he admitted that pathologists have a "mountain to climb" if they are to change public opinion. and he said the best way forward would be openness.

"We have to tell the public what having a post-mortem means. It means taking the organs out, examining them, sometimes retaining them and looking at them very carefully because the finding have implications not just for the patients but for other members of the family," he said.

Thymus glands

Eminent heart surgeon Professor Magdi Yacoub also urged parents not to lose sight of the importance of drugs being produced from thymus glands.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he had not been shocked to hear that Alder Hey and a number of other hospitals had received cash following the donation of thymus glands.

But he pleaded with parents not to lose sight of the fact that the thymus gland helped create drugs to prevent transplant patients rejecting their organs.

"I know for sure that all doctors and surgeons, as well as hospitals are dedicated to getting patients better, and for that they need to know the mechanisms of the disease, have appropriate drugs and have the confidence of the patient.

"It is essential to talk to the parents, but also to have the means to help the patients and without having these drugs we are not going to be able to help patients," he said.

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