Frequently Asked Questions
The Brain Donation Registration Process
If you are interested in being a brain donor there is a special donor information pack available detailing the necessary procedures of bequeathing tissue to the Brain Bank. However in the first instance please fill out the following information and a member of the Brain Bank team will be in contact with you. You can change your decision about brain donation at any time. Simply write us and indicate you wish to withdraw consent.
Get in Touch
If you are interested in being a brain donor please fill in the form below to start the brain donation registration process. We will then be in touch.
Donor Information Pack
Our brain bank team will send out a donation pack and may discuss with you more specific medical information, if required.
Discuss with Family
Discuss your wish to donate your brain to science with your family.
Register for Brain Donation
Fill in the donation forms that we send you and return them to us so that we have your offer of brain donation on record.
Contact us When a Donor has Died
The removal of your brain must happen within 24 hours after you die, so your family will need to contact us soon after your death.
Donating my brain to science FAQ
What does brain donation mean?
Brain donation involves having your brain and related tissues removed after your death and donating them to the Brain Bank to enable studies into neurological disorders. After death, the brain-removal process takes 45-90 minutes and is done at a hospital mortuary by a skilled technician. The body is then returned to the family for their own funeral arrangements. The brain tissue is processed in two main ways to ensure it is optimally preserved for future research studies. One half of the brain is usually fixed and the other half is frozen fresh. Because the brain tissue donated is of immense value for research, it is kept indefinitely in the Brain Bank. Brain tissue will not be returned to the next of kin.
Why is brain donation useful?
Human brain research is critical for understanding human brain diseases. Most of the brain diseases that occur in humans are not seen in other species and this necessitates human brain research. We require a wide range of human brains from neurologically normal brains to severely diseased in order to make comparisons between them. Our hope is that by studying brains affected by disease that we will eventually understand what causes brain disease through to the treatment of them. Additionally, studies on normal brains are useful for understanding general brain function. Such studies involve investigating which areas of the brain are connected to one another, how neurons communicate with one another and which neurotransmitters are produced by each brain cell type (neurons and glial cells). Additionally, the function of the support cells or so-called glial cells can also be determined. There is much we do not know about the brain and many more research studies are needed before the brain will be fully understood.
What happens when I die?
A post-mortem examination is carried out within 24 hours after death. The brain tissue is removed by mortuary staff and processed for future use by the Brain Bank staff. The body is returned to the undertaker within 90 minutes of arriving at the mortuary so the funeral arrangements are not delayed and can proceed normally.
What does the next-of-kin need to know? (making them aware)
It is important to inform loved ones of your decision in order to allow time for discussion. Having your family on-board with this is important as they will be responsible for carrying out your wishes after your death.
What is involved in becoming a donor?
Becoming a donor requires consent from the individual and from the next-of-kin or person in lawful possession of the body after your death. To become a donor you should read and have understood the ‘Information about Brain Donation to the Human Brain Bank for Research’ documents and complete an ‘Offer of Brain and Other Tissues’. (Consent can be withdrawn at any time). The ‘Post-Mortem Consent’ form will need to be signed by your next-of-kin at the time of death.
Will all donations be accepted at the time of death?
Brains from people with and without neurological diseases are needed at the Brain Bank. Whilst we would like to accept every offer of brain tissue there are circumstances where for technical, medical or logistical reasons we are unable to accept the donation of brain tissue. If there is a medical history of infectious disease or a rapid onset of dementia, we may not be able to accept the brain donation. Also, we must receive the brain within 24 hours in order for the brain to be useful for research studies.
What type of studies will the brain be used for?
Many different scientific techniques can be performed on donated human brain tissue. The most common are designed to understand how the brain is wired and what chemicals are involved in making it function normally and which ones become dysfunctional in brain diseases. Also, we are able to isolate a few cells from certain parts of the brain and grow them in cell culture. The number of cells kept alive in culture is very small, but they do retain some normal brain cell functions (such as the way one cell communicates with another, but the characteristics like personality and thinking are not retained) and if the donor had a neurological disease, then dysfunctional characteristics of the neurons can be studied in cell culture. Furthermore, new drugs for neurological diseases can be tested directly on human brain cells that have been affected by the disease. We work with geneticists at the Centre for Brain Research who seek answers to how specific genes cause diseases while others protect from disease. Tissue may be processed for genetic sequencing to identify and study genes of interest that relate to brain structure, function and neurological disease. The findings are for research purposes only and will not be reported back to the family. In addition, in order to study the effects of specific gene expression on human brain cells in culture, we undertake studies such as knocking genes out or expressing them at high levels in cultured human brain cells.
Who will use the brain tissue?
Brain tissue will be used by researchers nationwide to advance our understanding of the brain, what goes wrong in brain diseases and how the brain can be repaired. We work closely with carefully chosen research groups at other universities and institutes within New Zealand and overseas; in order to more rapidly advance our studies, we may send brain tissue to them on a collaborative basis to perform specified studies. Also, because our aims are to develop and test treatments for brain diseases, there may be situations where, for example, a pharmaceutical company may contract us to test potential drugs for them using human brain tissue or cells. Whilst this is uncommon, we will only engage in such work if there is a high likely hood of this accelerating the development of treatment options for patients with brain diseases. Any profit made from such a relationship is used to fund human brain research in the brain bank directly.
What will happen to brain tissue that is left over?
Donated brain tissue will be stored indefinitely in the brain bank. However sometimes there is a small amount of tissue is left over after the dissection of the brain is complete. This tissue will be cremated, and the ashes will be scattered at the University of Auckland memorial plot at the Mangere Lawn Cemetery.
How is identifiable information stored?
All identifiable donor information is kept private and is stored either on a secure database or in a locked filing cabinet at the Centre for Brain Research on the 5th floor of building 503 at the Grafton campus. Only brain bank staff will have access to the name and contact details of the donor. If you decide to withdraw from offering your brain for donation you can phone, e-mail or write to us at the address below.
Brain Donation Form
For emergencies call 111 or visit your nearest hospital
For general inquiries:
+64 9 923 6072 – Mrs Marika Eszes, Brain Bank Manager
At time of death:
+64 21 287 8476 – Professor Maurice Curtis, Co-Director