November 11, 2020

Brain Donation

  • The University of Michigan Brain Bank was founded by Professor Anne B. Young and Professor J. Penney to collect, store and distribute post-mortem brain tissues and associated clinical history. Established in 1982, the Michigan Brain Bank, in partnership with the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (MADRC), now has approximately 1500 paraffin and 1100 frozen brains. The program currently has 560 registered living clinical research participants who have consented to donate after death. 

    The Michigan Brain Bank has contributed to studies of many brain diseases, including studies of Alzheimer disease, Ataxia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington disease, ALS, and psychiatric diseases.  Active research programs include studies of Alzheimer disease and related dementias, Multiple Systems Atrophy, Parkinson’s disease and bipolar disorder.   

    The Brain Autopsy and Donation Program provides individuals and families with an opportunity to contribute to research. With the hope of developing pharmaceutical treatments and finding cures, the Brain Bank is committed to providing the scientific community with the brain tissues necessary to investigate the progression of neurological disease. Scientists around the world contact the Michigan Brain Bank to access tissue and information. The Michigan Brain Bank carefully screens all proposals and only approves legitimate requests. The Brain Bank adheres to all applicable regulations and guidelines when procuring, storing and distributing brain tissue. Appropriate consent is always obtained and donor anonymity is maintained. 

    More information can be found on the Michigan Brain Bank website here.

  • Image above: David was a donor to our brain donation program. You can read more about his story here.

    There are over 13 million Americans living with a brain disease or disorder. To find treatments and cures, researchers must study the human brain. The Michigan Brain Bank provides individuals and families an opportunity to contribute to this research effort.

    Donated brains are collected and stored by the Michigan Brain Bank to help scientists around the world advance the understanding of brain disease and disorders. You can make a difference and help future generations by generously donating your brain to the Michigan Brain Bank.

    There are no costs to donors or their families for autopsy and donation when participants meet our eligibility requirements.

    Medical clarity for the family

    Brain autopsy, or examining the brain after death, has many benefits. For families, learning the precise cause of the patient’s illness may be a tremendous relief and help to ease uncertainty and doubt. It gives relatives accurate information about the cause of symptoms and confirms or modifies the diagnosis made during life. Autopsy provides relatives with accurate information about their family’s medical history needed for their care and for future generations.

    Opportunity to contribute to the understanding of disease mechanisms and ongoing research

    Results of a brain autopsy is becoming increasingly important as we learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease, Multiple Systems Atrophy, other neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. It is likely in the future to affect treatment recommendations for family members. Additionally, when an autopsy is done, brain tissue is stored and may be available for additional studies even many years later.

    Brain autopsies are an extremely important source of information about how the disease affects the anatomy of the brain. This information is used to direct future research into the causes of memory loss, their progression over time, and clues about effective treatment approaches. For example, researchers recently have found that a previously unrecognized abnormality in brains of patients with dementia called Lewy bodies may be present in 40% of persons with Alzheimer’s disease and may account for some symptoms. We would never have learned this unless we conducted autopsies in addition to our clinical care. What we know about neurodegenerative disorders has only been possible because of the commitment of patients and families like you. Even if individual family members do not benefit directly from a brain autopsy, it can lead to a better understanding of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders for future generations and provide an important measure to assess public health and quality of care.

    Be sure to register in advance

    For most people, the time immediately following the death of a family member is very difficult. It is not a good time for making important decisions such as this. It is best to make the decision about whether or not to enroll for brain autopsy and donation well in advance, with less stress and with consideration for the wishes of the patient and family. As a result, we encourage you to get in touch with our Michigan Brain Bank Coordinator to discuss the process, and review the forms and documentation needed to participate, well in advance. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.

  • Image above: Donated brains are analyzed at our quarterly Clinical-Pathological Correlation Conferences in order to teach young clinicians and investigators about the complexity of diagnosing dementias.

    To learn more about the brain donation program, please contact Michigan Brain Bank Coordinator, Matthew Perkins, a perkmd@med.umich.edu or 734-647-7648. Matthew is more than happy to discuss the process, work with your care provider, and align with your funeral arrangements. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

    Participation in the program requires eligibility and documentation. Please review some of the below forms to get started.

    For donation requirements and collection information, please view this form.

    For more information on the autopsy program, please view this packet.

    More information can also be found on the Michigan Brain Bank website here.