In this podcast from Science Friday, Tish Hevel, CEO and creator of the Brain Donor Project, and Dr. Bill Scott, executive director of the University of Miami’s Brain Endowment Bank, talk about what researchers can learn from studying human brains. The measures that people can take in order to donate their brain to research after passing away are also covered in the episode.
Death can be a scary concept to think about. But what if you knew that donating your brain to science after death could aid in the advancement of scientific study, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIH)? After you pass away, your brain could potentially give scientists the chance to study Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD), and in turn, may provide valuable data for hundreds of studies that could help those afflicted with ADRD.
In addition to studying ADRD, researchers can also use donated brain tissue to study other brain diseases that affect millions of people, such as Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, mixed dementia, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as brain injuries such as trauma and stroke. All of that research could be gathered from just one brain!
You might be asking yourself if you qualify to donate your brain to science. Researchers tend to prioritize which brains will be most valuable to advancing science; so the following are high priority for scientists studying ADRD:
- People with healthy brains, including both younger and older people
- Those who are Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American and/or Pacific Islander, including both healthy donors and those with dementia
- People diagnosed with non-Alzheimer’s dementias, such as Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal disorders
- People with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease
- Those with Down syndrome, who are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease
- People with a diagnosis of dementia who have a family history of dementia, and
- Participants in clinical trials and other research on ADRD
Donating a kidney can help keep a person alive. The same goes for a part of your liver, bone marrow, blood, and more, all of which are extremely commendable decisions to make. But the research done on a brain could potentially help tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people in the long run. You have an incredible opportunity to help people even when you won’t be here anymore, for decades to come!
If you are considering brain donation, talk with your family and friends early in your decision-making process. This may reduce stress and misunderstandings at the time of donation. The opinions of family, friends, spiritual leaders, and others in your community may be helpful as you decide whether donation is right for you.
Additionally, if you do decide to donate your brain, consider enrolling in a study soon to provide the most value to researchers and future generations. NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers have brain donation programs for their study participants. Contact your nearest center to find out if you’re eligible to participate.