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Brain Donation

Direct examination of brain tissue under a microscope is the only way to confirm a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and many other dementing diseases.

Brain donation provides researchers with the necessary tissue for in-depth study and investigation of disease processes, leading us closer to the ultimate goal of identifying causes and effective treatment for these illnesses.

Brain donation is a valuable gift that a patient and his/her family can give.

For more information, please call (203) 785-2748 or visit Brain Donation: A Gift for Future Generations, a resource of the National Institute on Aging.

Yale ADRC Brain Tissue Donation Program

The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) at Yale is committed to the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Our Brain Tissue Donation Program is one way that participants may contribute to our advancement of understanding these diseases and healthy aging.

Significance of the Brain Tissue Donation Program

Research using brain tissue will help us discover important causes of and treatments for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. Brain donation is important because there are different types of dementia that affect older adults and cause progressive loss of memory, thinking and behavioral changes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias because the symptoms are very similar. Currently, the only way to reach a definite diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia is to examine the brain tissue after death through brain donation. It is just as important to study the brain tissue of people with no memory issues or other cognitive issues so that we can compare normal and abnormal tissue.

Brain donation is an important part of Alzheimer's disease research, and is one of the most valuable gifts one can make to research. In return, brain donation will provide families with a definite diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other disorder which can bring a sense of relief and closure to loved ones.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, our Brain Tissue Donation Program shares results with other investigators in hopes of adding research value to each donation.

Contact Us

The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Yale University would like to thank the study participants and their families who help advance research with the unique and indispensable gift of brain donation. If you have any questions or concerns about brain donation, please feel free to contact our brain donation coordinators, Martha MacAvoy, PhD or Sue DeStefano, APRN at 203-764-8100.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is involved in a brain autopsy?
An autopsy is the examination by a trained physician (pathologist) of tissue and organs from a deceased person. The autopsy will be limited to the brain. Those involved in this process make it their priority to treat the deceased with respect and compassion. Consent for the autopsy will be obtained after the participant’s death.
Is there a time frame in which the autopsy must be performed?
It is preferable to perform the autopsy as soon as possible after death. At time of death please contact Anita Huttner at the Yale New Haven Hospital morgue at 203-785-2748 as well as our office at 203-764-8100. Please inform the autopsy staff that this donation is for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. The autopsy will be performed during normal working hours of the Yale New Haven Hospital morgue.
Will brain donation interfere with funeral arrangements?
The actual brain removal takes approximately 30 minutes. The deceased is brought to Yale New Haven Hospital by a funeral home (or crematorium) staff member who waits to take the patient back to the funeral home (or crematorium). The brain is removed in such a manner that it will not interfere with open casket viewing. Brain donation should not delay or complicate the family’s plans for a funeral.
Who can authorize autopsy?

Connecticut law requires that consent must be given in the following order (Individual state laws may vary):

  • 1st—Durable Power of Attorney – when the authority to do so is granted
  • 2nd—Surviving spouse
  • 3rd—Any surviving child – age 16 or older
  • 4th—Any surviving parent
  • 5th—Any surviving brother or sister
  • 6th—Any relative by blood or marriage who assumes right to control disposition of remains
  • 7th—Any friend or friends who assume control of remains
Can the family learn the results of the brain autopsy?
Yes, but the examination of brain tissue is very complex and time-consuming and may take over 6 months to process the tissue, examine it, and prepare a report. A letter stating the findings can be obtained from your study physician by request, and a member of the Yale ADRC team is available to discuss the results with the family.
What is the cost?
There is no charge to the family for any aspect of the brain donation for research participants.
Are there religious contradictions to consider before consenting to autopsy?
Most religions support brain autopsy and tissue donation. In some religions or cultures, the body must be “whole” when buried. Families can request that the brain be returned to the body for burial purposes. In this case, only small specimens will be retained for processing.
Who is eligible for brain donation to our program?
Not everyone is eligible for donation. ADRC research participants are eligible for the Brain Tissue Donation Program. Especially valuable are those subjects who have participated in other studies here with us (either through the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Unit or the ADRC).