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.

Donating a brain to research

Both healthy brains and brains affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s are needed for research. Comparing healthy brains to those affected by neurodegenerative disease is a critical method for researchers to learn more about the underlying biology that causes brain disease. There are many research centers that accept brain donations.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) resources

The NIH funds many research centers in the United States that accept brain donations, including Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, the NeuroBioBank and the National Centralized Repository for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (NCRAD). It also offers helpful information to potential donors about the importance and process of brain donation, FAQs and tips for brain donation. Brains from individuals with Down syndrome are also needed to perform vital research. People with Down syndrome have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's and it is important to study their brains to understand the underlying biology causing Alzheimer's in these individuals.

Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers

The National Institute on Aging, part of the NIH, supports more than 30 Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers (ADRCs) across the country that conduct Alzheimer's research. Several of these ADRCs also have satellite centers. To locate and contact the ADRC nearest you, visit the ADRC website. Most ADRCs accept brain donations only from individuals who participated in research at the ADRC.

NIH NeuroBioBank

The NeuroBioBank (NBB) program includes six banks that accept donations from individuals with or without conditions affecting the brain. The NBB partners with the Brain Donor Project, which matches donors to the appropriate NBB. Donors first complete the Brain Pre-Registration Form, and the Brain Donor Project follows up with contact information for the matching site. (Brain Donor Project: 513.393.7878, 24 hours a day; info@braindonorproject.org)

After completing the Brain Pre-Registration Form, donors will be instructed to contact one of the NeuroBioBanks:

National Centralized Repository for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (NCRAD)

The goal of the NCRAD is to support research on the cause, detection and treatment of 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. If your family has at least two living members who are willing to participate in the study and provide blood samples and medical records, you may qualify for NCRAD. (800.526.2839; alzstudy@iu.edu; Indianapolis, Indiana)

Other brain donation resources

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

  • Biggs Institute Brain Bank Core at the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio (210.450.8423, 24 hours; BrainBank@UTHealthSA.org; San Antonio, Texas). Anyone can become a donor. People with diagnosed brain disorders or unaffected healthy people are welcome to donate. Accepts donations from all U.S. states with a focus on Texas.
  • The Veterans Affairs (VA) Biorepository Brain Bank (866.460.1158). Accepts donations from veterans across the United States. In addition to donations by veterans unaffected by brain disorders, the VA is focused on the following: veterans diagnosed with ALS, veterans who served during the 1990-91 Gulf War (deployed or non-deployed), and veterans and non-veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans and non-veterans diagnosed with other disorders such as major depression may also be eligible to enroll in studies.
  • National Disease Research Interchange (800.222.6374). Accepts donations from across the United States, including Alzheimer's donations.
  • Brown Brain Tissue Resource Center (401.444.5160, 401.444.5108 after hours). Accepts donations from individuals with and without neurologic or neurodegenerative disease. Accepts donations primarily from Rhode Island. Other donations may be accepted on a case-by-case basis.
  • Oregon Brain Bank (503.494.0100, woltjerr@ohsu.edu). Accepts donations from Oregon residents. Its primary focus is on Alzheimer's disease.
  • Florida Brain Bank (305.674.2018; info@msmc.com; Miami Beach, Florida)