Brain Donation

Arrange for a priceless gift that is uniquely yours to give when you pass on. Donating your brain could help unlock the mysteries of complex disorders and keep families healthier for generations to come.
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More Details About the Study

What is brain donation?

Our scientists use brain tissue donated after death to better understand the causes of and treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.

What is a brain autopsy?

Brain autopsy is the process of analyzing a person’s brain after death to determine with certainty whether or not the donor had Alzheimer’s disease and/or another form of dementia.
Currently, only an autopsy can definitively diagnose these diseases.

How will my family learn about Alzheimer’s disease and/or other dementias from my brain donation?

Families will receive a full report on the type and levels of the pathology in their loved one’s brain and gain insights into how these brain changes may have contributed to memory loss. Researchers will gain a better understanding of the relationship between cognitive testing, clinical test results, fluid and imaging biomarkers, and the brain changes detected in the donated tissue. These insights enable scientists to constantly test new ideas and advance discovery that may one day result in effective therapies.

Why is brain donation important?

Brain donation helps researchers better understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. One donated brain can provide resources for hundreds of research studies. In this way, it provides a gift of hope to future generations at risk of developing dementia.

Who is eligible for brain donation?

All participants enrolled at USC may qualify to donate their brain if they meet eligibility criteria. This includes participants who have cognitive impairment, as well as those who don’t. In fact, both are needed for this important research.

Why should I consider donating my brain?

Brain donation provides your loved ones with a definitive diagnosis. This may offer your family closure and help them assess their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and/or related dementias.

Additionally, it is a gift for future generations. Your donation will increase the chances that better diagnostic tools and treatment options are developed for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

What should I consider when making the decision to donate my brain?

The decision to donate your brain can be a difficult one. Start thinking about brain donation early so that you have plenty of time to consider whether it’s right for you. Your decision might require more than one conversation with your family and/or doctor.

Is brain donation compatible with my religion?

Most religious and ethical traditions view organ donation as valuable to society and believe that donating an organ is a personal decision. We encourage you to seek guidance from your spiritual leader if you have questions specific to your faith.

Does brain donation interfere with funeral arrangements?

Brain donation does not affect or delay funeral arrangements. The brain removal is performed carefully and respectfully, and without delay, by an experienced professional and does not interfere with plans for open casket viewing or cremation.

When should I start thinking about brain donation?

It’s never too early to start the conversation about brain donation. If you are considering brain donation, talk with your loved ones about it early in your decision-making process. This may reduce their stress at the time of donation.

Whom should I inform about my decision to donate?

It is important to inform those involved with your end-of-life planning and care about your decision to donate your brain. You may want to include relatives, friends, doctors, and other health professionals to help ensure that everyone involved is clear about your wishes. Remember to include brain donation wishes in your end-of-life arrangements, such as in medical advance directives and information for your funeral home.

From start to finish, what is involved in the brain donation process?

Step 1: Enroll in the Brain Donation program at USC
Step 2: Sign the Consent Form
Step 3: Designate 2-3 family members or other representatives to contact USC  at the time of death. It is important that the center is contacted immediately, ideally within two hours of death.
Step 4: USC will assist your loved ones in making arrangements for transportation to and from the donation site.
Step 5: The brain autopsy is performed. Brain tissue is stored in a carefully controlled Brain Bank.
Step 6: Your family or other designated recipient is notified with the results of the brain autopsy. This may take up to 6-12 months.
Step 7: Brain tissue is available to qualified scientists across the country for critical research.

What happens to my brain once it’s been donated?

An experienced professional will respectfully perform a brain autopsy. They will share the results with your family or other designated recipient. Brain tissue will be stored in a carefully controlled Brain Bank for future investigations by scientists.

Researchers look under the microscope for brain changes or biological markers characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and/or other dementias. They then associate these brain changes with your reported symptoms and changes in your performance on various cognitive tests. All of this information will help them gain a better understanding of disease cause, progression, and treatment options.

Will my identity or other personal information be shared?

The identity of each donor is strictly confidential. Your name will not be included in any information sent to researchers. All distributed samples are coded in order to protect your and
your family’s anonymity and privacy.

What if I change my mind and no longer wish to donate my brain?

You can cancel your donation at any time, no explanation needed. 

Why is it important for diverse populations to participate in brain donation?

African Americans and Latinos are more likely than Caucasians to have dementia. Yet, African Americans and Latinos are less likely to participate in clinical trials and are underrepresented in research. Including diverse participants in research helps scientists to identify unique factors that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and/or other dementias in these populations.

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