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A Role for Research Ethics Committees in Exchanges of Human Biospecimens Through Material Transfer Agreements


International transfers of human biological material (biospecimens) and data are increasing, and commentators are starting to raise concerns about how donor wishes are protected in such circumstances. These exchanges are generally made under contractual material transfer agreements (MTAs). This paper asks what role, if any, should research ethics committees (RECs) play in ensuring legal and ethical conduct in such exchanges. It is recommended that RECs should play a more active role in the future development of best practice MTAs involving exchange of biospecimens and data and in monitoring compliance.

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The research for this article was funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP140100301 and the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Genome Project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness through the Instituto de Salud Carlos III (ISCIII).

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Correspondence to Dianne Nicol.

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Chalmers, D., Nicol, D., Nicolás, P. et al. A Role for Research Ethics Committees in Exchanges of Human Biospecimens Through Material Transfer Agreements. Bioethical Inquiry 11, 301–306 (2014).

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  • Biospecimens
  • Material transfer agreements
  • Research ethics committees
  • International exchange of biological material