Brain Donation

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With rare exceptions we only accept brain donations from the following:

  • Individuals currently enrolled in research studies being conducted by or in affiliation with the Wisconsin ADRC. These studies include the Wisconsin ADRC Clinical Core, the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer's Prevention (WRAP), and the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).
  • On a case-by-case basis — and if approved by the WBDP neuropathologist following a request/review of a donor's medical records — healthy, older individuals without a personal or family history of neurodegenerative diseases (for example, dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, other dementia, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, etc.) 

To inquire about a donor's registration status or to register a non-study donor, please contact our business line at any time and leave a detailed message: (608) 265-4000; or email brainbank@medicine.wisc.edu.

For assistance with an urgent donation of an enrolled donor, including evenings or weekends, please call our 24-hour pager: (608) 265-7000, ext. 5332.

* Please do not page us for those not currently enrolled as a donor (unless they are a current or former participant in the Wisconsin ADRC Clinical Core research study). We are unable to enroll any other study participants or healthy controls without being registered a minimum of 24 hours in advance of death. Thank you for your understanding of our enrollment exclusions and limitations.

The Wisconsin Brain Donor Program (WBDP) is a repository for brain tissues collected for the purpose of research. The WBDP, which is part of the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, collaborates with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (WAI), the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and other select organizations and individuals.

Those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or who have a parent who has been diagnosed with these disorders, are particularly important to this type of research because scientists do not currently know what causes these devastating illnesses, and unfortunately there is no cure. One donor's tissue can be used in multiple research opportunities for the treatment and prevention of a memory disorder.

Donors help the WBDP, and other researchers worldwide, actively advance the knowledge of memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. It is particularly helpful to have brain donations made by individuals who were cognitively healthy throughout their lives because we can then compare the differences between their brain and the brain of someone diagnosed with a memory disorder. Please note that these donors are registered on a case-by-case basis following a request and review of their medical records by the NBDP neuropathologist. This process can take days to weeks. At minimum, we cannot proceed to donation unless an individual has been registered a full 24 hours prior to death.

Many individuals gain satisfaction from knowing that their contribution may help others affected by similar neurological diseases. For some families, confirming a medical diagnosis in their loved ones encourages them to make changes that will keep themselves healthy, or to participate in a memory research study.

If you wish to donate, it is important to talk to your family members and physician(s). For our registered donors, there is no cost as we cover all expenses incurred to obtain the donation, including transport to/from the donation site. We encourage you to contact the WBDP office phone line, during normal business hours, or email us, to ask any questions you may have about donation and to determine if you are eligible to register.

When a donation occurs, it is limited to brain tissue, a small sample of blood and small sample of cerebrospinal fluid. The brain-only autopsy is conducted under the guidance of a board-certified neuropathologist. The donors and their families are always treated with respect and compassion.

Brain removal does not cause disfigurement and does not interfere with funeral arrangements. This is a common procedure that funeral directors and morticians are familiar with and is fully compatible with current funeral practices.

Donation to the WBDP is completely voluntary. You have the right to change your mind at any time. We strive to protect the confidentiality of donors and their families to the fullest extent.

Learn more

Watch our videos on brain donation:

  • Keretha joined the Wisconsin ADRC Clinical Core Study in 2013 and enrolled as a future brain donor in 2015. Click here to watch.
  • Natalie donated her brain to help her family and others. To help find a cure, her family has also volunteered for research studies and have registered to be brain donors. Click here to watch.

View educational materials about brain donation: