Statement on U.S. Supreme Court’s Denial of Certiorari in case involving ownership of tissues donated for research

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is pleased by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision released today. The Court let stand a unanimous 2007 ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that stated prostate tissue and serum samples donated to Washington University can continue to be used by the institution for cancer research. The appellate court had affirmed the lower federal district court ruling that donors who gave tissue or serum samples to the University for research can’t later compel the school to transfer ownership of the samples to another research institution.

Today’s decision affirms the critical role of research institutions to develop and maintain stable repositories of biologic material for medical research. The Supreme Court’s decision also maintains the integrity of the prostate cancer repository at Washington University and provides the best opportunity for this extensive collection of tissues to be used to advance scientists’ understanding of prostate cancer.

In addition, the decision will protect donors from unregulated and potentially conflicting solicitations for their donated tissues. The case involves a former Washington University surgeon, William Catalona, M.D., who was engaged in research using the prostate cancer repository. Dr. Catalona had argued unsuccessfully in the lower courts that research participants who donated tissue and blood samples to the University for prostate cancer research could require the University to transfer their tissues to him at his new place of employment.

“Washington University takes its obligation to research participants very seriously,” says Larry Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We will continue to use the tissues and serum samples for the purpose they were originally intended, which is prostate cancer research. It is our hope that use of the repository will lead to important advances. As we have said throughout the case, we encourage scientists both within the University community and those affiliated with other institutions to request access to the repository for their own prostate cancer studies.”

Washington University was supported by numerous research institutions that filed a friend of the court brief, including Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic, Cornell University, Duke University and Stanford University among others.

Washington University will continue to share the tissues in the repository on a peer-review basis with scientists at other institutions who propose promising research using the samples. We are grateful to the many thousands of volunteers who donated their tissue for prostate cancer research. Their samples are a generous gift and a vital resource for understanding the causes of the disease and developing new cures.