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Patients may not even know where to look given that consent forms—part of the standard hospital admissions paperwork—don’t usually specify how tissue will be used. It could go to a patient’s doctor or to a researcher at another university or to a company. “There’s a lot about how research is conducted in the US that the public doesn’t understand,” says Michelle Lewis, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

The process is extremely opaque. But if you’ve had a circumcision or tummy tuck or breast surgery, especially in a Boston-area hospital, your cells could have made it to MatTek, been expanded to cover two football fields worth of skin, and been sent all over the world to labs that test chemicals and skin creams and drugs.

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Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=379694

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