A portion of human tissue is used in a nasal reconstruction surgical procedure
A portion of human tissue is used in a nasal reconstruction surgical procedure

Skin and Bone

About This Project: Skin and Bone

Skin And Bone: The Shadowy Trade In Human Body Parts is an eight-month project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a global network of reporters who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories that cross national boundaries

ICIJ found the business of recycling dead humans has grown so large over the past decade that you can buy stock in publicly traded companies that rely on corpses for their raw materials. 

Skin and bones donated by relatives of the dead are turned into everything from bladder slings to surgical screws to material used in dentistry or plastic surgery.

Distributors of the merchandise can be found in much of the world. Some are subsidiaries of billion-dollar multinational medical corporations.

ICIJ discovered that patients aren’t always told that the product they are getting originated from a corpse. This led to a more complex issue – how does the industry source the raw material it uses in its products?

Inquiries were conducted across 11 countries and the project was co-researched with National Public Radio and Newsday (USA), the Kiev Post (Ukraine), The Daily Slovakia (Slovakia) and La Voce della Repubblica Ceca (Czech Republic).

The ICIJ’s investigation relied on more than 200 interviews with industry insiders, government officials, surgeons, lawyers, ethicists and convicted felons, as well as thousands of court documents, regulatory reports, criminal investigation findings, corporate records and internal company memos. 

ICIJ also conducted analysis on registered tissue banks, imports, inspections, adverse events, and deviation reports filed with the Food and Drug Administration, the US agency that polices the trade.  ICIJ obtained the data through records requests to the FDA.

Palantir donated the use of software and assisted reporters in analyzing and visualizing data, as well as provided interactive and still graphics for ICIJ and partner publications. 

The project was unveiled at the Google Ideas INFO Summit.

The Team

Kate Willson (USA) Vlad Lavrov (Ukraine), Martina Keller (Germany), Thomas Maier (USA), Mar Cabra (Spain), Nari Kim (South Korea), William Venuti and Antonio Aldo Papaleo (Slovakia), Alexenia Dimitrova (Bulgaria), Michael Hudson (USA), and reporters from National Public Radio (USA).

ICIJ Director: Gerard Ryle

ICIJ Deputy Director: Marina Walker Guevara

ICIJ Data Editor: David Donald

ICIJ Digital Editor: Kimberley Porteous

Media Partners

Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil)

Asahi Shimbun (Japan)

The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

El Mundo (Spain)

Le Monde (France)

The Huffington Post (USA)



CIPER (Chile)

The Kiev Post (Ukraine)

The Daily Mail (UK)

El Puercoespín (Argentina)

The Daily (Czech Rep.)

La Nación (Argentina)

How our investigation appeared in Le Monde, Asahi Shimbun and El Mundo
How our investigation appeared in Le Monde, Asahi Shimbun and El Mundo

Awards and recognitions

Read the e-book

Click on the above image to view ICIJ’s complete, 4-part “Skin and Bone: the Shadowy Trade in Human Body Parts” investigation in PDF format, or for the best reading experience, save and open the e-book within a PDF viewer on your media tablet, e-reader or personal computer. For Apple iPad owners we recommend opening the e-book in the iBooks or Goodreader apps.


Follow ICIJ on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more
Inside Skin and Bone
Key Questions About Human Tissue
July 13, 2012 — What if I want to donate organs but not tissue? Am I saving lives if I donate my tissue? Should I be concerned about safety if I receive a product manufactured from human tissue?
Inside Skin and Bone
Los cadáveres humanos son el botín en una búsqueda global de ganancias
July 16, 2012 — La industria ha florecido aun cuando sus prácticas han despertado preocupación sobre cómo obtiene los tejidos y qué tan bien informadas están las familias y los pacientes de trasplantes sobre las realidades y riesgos del negocio.
Inside Skin and Bone
Video: Skin and Bone
The business of recycling dead humans into medical implants is a little-known yet lucrative trade. But its practices have roused concerns about…