The examination of brain tissue can contribute to research about Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, including research into new treatments. Brain donations are essential to furthering these research advancements. Planning ahead will help in this process of giving the ultimate gift.

When donating a brain to research

Certain research centers may only accept brain tissue from individuals who have participated in a research study at the center.

Arrangements should be made with a research center, tissue or brain bank, or university prior to the person's death. Time is of the essence once death occurs, so having the proper consent and release forms in place can help ensure that the donation takes place. Some organizations may not be set up to accept a brain donation without prior arrangement; there may be eligibility requirements and consent forms to sign. These organizations may also not be able to guarantee donations — acceptance may be based upon timing of death, the facility’s current need for donations and the availability of a qualified professional to recover the donation.

If the person with Alzheimer's did not make his/her wishes known, the next of kin or legal guardian can make arrangements for brain donation on behalf of a family member.

Alzheimer's Disease Centers

The National Institute on Aging supports 30 Alzheimer's Disease Centers (ADCs) across the country that conduct Alzheimer's research. Several of these ADCs also have satellite centers. Most ADCs accept brain donations only from individuals who participated in research at the ADC.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) NeuroBioBank

The NeuroBioBank program includes six banks that accept donations from individuals with neurological disorders resulting in dementia, including, but not limited to, vascular, frontotemporal and Lewy body dementia. An individual with Alzheimer's disease who has not participated in a research study may be a candidate for brain donation to one of the NeuroBioBank locations or to certain ADCs. To determine whether someone could be a potential donor, the NeuroBioBank recommends visiting The Brain Donor Project and completing the online sign-up form. If the donor meets certain criteria that match researchers' needs, contact information will be provided for the appropriate ADC or NeuroBioBank location.

The six NeuroBioBank brain banks are:

Other brain donation facilities

Many other facilities accept brain donations from individuals with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. They include the following:

  • Biggs Institute Brain Bank Core at Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio (210.450.8423, BrainBank@UTHealthSA.org)
  • The Veterans Affairs (VA) Biorepository Brain Bank (866.460.1158; Only accepts donations from veterans who served in the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991. Donations from veterans with both Alzheimer’s and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also accepted.)
  • National Disease Research Interchange (800.222.6374; Accepts donations from across the United States, including Alzheimer's donations. Preregistration and premortem evaluation are required. Donations cannot be guaranteed and are dependent upon the availability of a recovery specialist at the time of the donor’s death.)
  • Brown Brain Tissue Resource Center (401.444.5155; Accepts donations from those who were patients of Brown University physicians.)
  • Oregon Brain Bank (503.494.0100, woltjerr@ohsu.edu; Accepts donations from Oregon residents and may accept Alzheimer's donations depending on current needs.)

National Cell Repository for Alzheimer's Disease (NCRAD)

The goal of the NCRAD is to help researchers find genes that increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. The NCRAD provides qualified researchers with biological samples (such as DNA, plasma, serum, RNA, cerebrospinal fluid, cell lines and brain tissue) to study. The NCRAD collaborates with more than 40 Alzheimer’s and other dementia studies and enrolls families into its programs. Its programs include, among other efforts, a bank for brain donations and clinical trials in which family members may be eligible to participate. To make a brain donation, an individual must have two or more living blood relatives with symptoms of Alzheimer's or another dementia. These symptomatic relatives must be willing to donate a biological sample (blood or saliva) before death of their loved one, and provide the NCRAD with their medical records. If the individual inquiring about brain donation has dementia, only one blood relative is needed.

The NCRAD may be reached at 800.526.2839 or alzstudy@iu.edu. It accepts donations from all U.S. states.