Why You Should Donate Your Brain to Science

Many people recognize the importance of donated tissue in the medical field. Organ donation has helped save countless lives, giving people with major health issues a second chance at life by replacing failing organs with healthy ones. However, tissue donation is not just necessary to the medical field, but to the field of research as well. And though researchers may not save lives in the same sense that medical doctors do, their work is live-saving nonetheless. Through research, a disease can be better understood, treatments improved, and, sometimes, even cured completely.

One option that is frequently overlooked when it comes to tissue donation is the donation of one’s brain. Brain donations are essential to finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and depression, but unfortunately, researchers have been struggling to find the brain tissue they need to perform such work. However, with tissue donation becoming more widely known and accepted, there is hope that brain donation will increase and thus improve scientist’s abilities to research this particular organ.

Why Brain Donation?

Relatively few people are aware of the fact that they can choose to donate their brain after death. And those that are can sometimes struggle with the thought of donating their brain, even if it is no longer needed once one passes on. However, there are compelling reasons as to why one should donate their brain and what this kind of donation can mean for the advancement of research.

Though your brain may not be able to aid another person by replacing damaged or unhealthy tissue, it can help by advancing research in many areas. Brain tissue is vital in helping to answer questions regarding diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, or autism. For many diseases, there is a genetic component that comes into play. By using brain tissue to further investigate, researchers can advance their knowledge of these diseases and who might be susceptible to them. It can help them develop better methods of testing for and treating such diseases, giving not just those people currently affected by such disorders hope, but future generations as well. Additionally, the study of brain tissue collected after death can aid scientists in researching what happens to the brain after a traumatic brain injury.

While there are many methods scientists have for researching the brain, none are quite as effective as actually being able to look at a physical brain and studying the physical anomalies and differences between healthy and unhealthy brains. Tests such as MRI’s and CT scans can be very beneficial to researchers, but unfortunately, this technology is limited and takes only a broad look at the brain in general. These types of technologies are not able to see the brain in detail, on a molecular level. In that same respect, while studies on other animals can be beneficial and help in further understanding the workings of the brain, it does not help us with the many disorders and illnesses that affect the human brain. By having brain tissue on which to experiment and study, researchers can discover differences and perhaps find treatments that they otherwise would not be able to.

All of this brings hope and an incredible amount of potential to people who currently must live with illnesses they can never be free of. The simple act of donating your brain after death has the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of lives. Even after death, your life could mean a great deal to so many other people.

What is Required for Brain Donation

The decision to donate your brain is an incredibly meaningful one. However, because it is not as widely known that your brain can be donated, it does take some planning to ensure that this will happen. Fortunately, there are many great institutes that can help you plan ahead. With a simple search, an institute local to you can often be found.

There are several things that need to happen in order for a brain donation to be successful. It is vital to speak with loved ones and express your wishes in regards to the donation of your brain. With the help of a donation center, it can be easily enough accomplished, but it will require some help from loved ones.

As brain tissue begins to deteriorate rapidly after death, it is vital that the tissue be refrigerated as soon as possible after the donor has passed on. Though some institutions have more specific time frames and protocols, it is most commonly recommended the body be refrigerated within six hours of death to prevent the brain from deteriorating too much to be of use for research. Though this does depend on quite a bit of the manner of death, this is the best rule of thumb to adhere to. If the brain tissue has been left uncooled for an extended length of time, unfortunately, most facilities will not be able to use that donated brain.

The institute or brain bank you have chosen to work with will need to notified as soon as possible after your death in order for the donation to successfully occur. This is where your loved ones’ assistance is vital. Regrettably, the task of notifying the Institute and/or the coroner’s’ office of your wishes will fall upon them. In most cases, the institute or brain bank will work directly with the coroner’s office or funeral home to arrange transport of the brain tissue to their facility. Ideally, the brain should reach the appropriate destination within 24 hours of death.

If you have concerns about whether your brain can be used in research, most often the answer is yes, it can. As long as the brain is cooled appropriately and received in a timely manner, your brain can almost always be used for research purposes regardless of your health before your death. Researchers need both healthy brain tissue and the tissue of those with disorders that affect the brain. Healthy brain tissue is used to compare to unhealthy brain tissue so that they might better determine what effects individual diseases have on the brain.

What is a Brain Bank?

Speaking of brain banks, just what is it that they are and do? Shortly put, a brain bank is a place which collects brain tissue in order to provide a variety of tissue types to whoever might need it. By collecting tissue in one place, they are able to provide a wider selection of brain tissue that can then be used in various types of research. This benefits researchers greatly as they can request a specific type of tissue from a bank in order to further their research more easily and accurately. This means researchers can have access to a wider variety of tissue so that they can focus on furthering research rather than attempting to locate the tissue they might need through other avenues.

When you choose to donate your brain, you are free to choose where you would like it to go. Many institutes and universities do accept donations of brain tissue from individual donors. However, if you choose to donate directly to a researching institute, they may have separate protocols that you must follow in order to donate. It is important that you discuss this with the Institute prior to making the arrangements to ensure a successful donation. If you do not have a specific place in mind, however, a brain bank is an excellent option for donation. This allows your donation to reach a larger audience of researchers so that it might be put to best use.

Making That Meaningful Decision

Whether or not brain donation is for you is something only you can decide. Donation of the brain does take more thought and planning than the donation of other tissues might, but going that small extra distance can make a huge difference in so many lives. If you are interested in learning more about what it means to be a brain donor, a great place to start this discussion is with a local clinic or hospital. They will often have access to resources such as institutes and brain banks near you that would be able to help you. In the end, brain donation is a personal decision. It is also a decision that has the potential to change hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

Whether or not brain donation is for you is something only you can decide. Donation of the brain does take more thought and planning than the donation of other tissues might, but going that small extra distance can make a huge difference in so many lives. If you are interested in learning more about what it means to be a brain donor, a great place to start this discussion is with a local clinic or hospital. They will often have access to resources such as institutes and brain banks near you that would be able to help you. In the end, brain donation is a personal decision. It is also a decision that has the potential to change hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.