Today most Americans have their tissue on file somewhere. When you go to the doctor for a routine blood test or to have a mole removed, when you have an appendectomy, tonsillectomy, or any other kind of ectomy, the stuff you leave behind doesn't always get thrown out. Doctors, hospitals, and laboratories keep it. Often indefinitely.
In 1999 the RAND Corporation published a report (the first, and, so far, last of its kind) with a "conservative estimate" that more than 307 million tissue samples from more than 178 million people were stored in the United States alone. This number, the report said, was increasing by more than 20 million samples each year. The samples come from routine medical procedures, tests, operations, clinical trials, and research donations. They sit in lab freezers, on shelves, or in industrial vats of liquid nitrogen. They're stored at military facilities, the FBI, and the National Institutes of Health. They're in biotech company labs and most hospitals. Biobanks store appendixes, ovaries, skin, sphincters, testicles, fat, even foreskins from most circumcisions. They also house blood samples taken from most infants born in the United States since the late sixties, when states started mandating the screening of all newborns for genetic diseases.
And the scale of tissue research is only getting bigger...
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
This is a great book. It should be required reading for all first-year college students and, uh, anybody who ever plans to visit a doctor.