The following information about donating a brain for research was compiled by Cori Robin, LCSW, former social worker with the HDSA Center of Excellence at Rush Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.

An immense amount of research is being done on brain tissue in order to understand more about Huntington's disease (HD) and other neurologic disorders. Brain banks collect brains from donors and distribute tissue to researchers across the country trying to understand causes and effects of various diseases. In the case of HD, the goal of this research is to understand how the mutated huntingtin gene can, over a period of many decades, cause damage to neurons in certain parts of the brain. There is a critical need for brain tissue from individuals affected by HD at all stages of the disease, as well as from those without HD, in order to make these assessments. Brain donation is a gift of hope for generations to come. Please discuss this important issue with your family as this, of course, is a very personal decision. A few options:

1. Rush Brain Bank: Donation packets can be obtained from the HDSA Center of Excellence at Rush University Medical Center 312-563-2900. ***PLEASE NOTE***Rush Medical Center only accepts brain donations from those patients whose brain has been removed at Rush Medical Center and only from those patients who have received medical care at Rush Medical Center

Click here for more information about brain donations at Rush Medical Center.

Rush Brain Donation Research Center By Tracy Waliczek
As a part of our mission here at Rush University Medical Center, we are committed to continued research in the area of Movement Disorders. An important part of our research involves examining the actual brain tissue of patients affected with these conditions, including HD. The decision to donate your brain to advance HD research is an entirely personal one and should include discussions with your loved ones. To request information, please feel free to contact Tracy Waliczek, brain donation coordinator, at preferred) or 312-563-2848.
*Will I be able to have an open casket? Yes. It is possible to donate your brain in a way that allows for an open casket funeral.
*What will happen with my brain once donated? A qualified neuropathologist will take small tissues samples which allow for research on how HD affects the human brain. One brain donation can allow for hundreds of tissue samples.
*Is being an organ donor on my driver’s license sufficient for brain donation? No. Organ donation on ID cards and driver’s licenses allow for donation for transplant purposes but does not include organ donation for medical research.
*What if I change my mind and no longer wish to donate? You are able to change your mind at anytime.

2. Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC): brain tissue for research may be donated to a brain bank through HBTRC at McLean Hospital, a division of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) 
Massachusetts General Hospital
: For more information, call 617-726-2000 or visit HBTRC’s website here

How to Make A Donation Call 1-800-Brain Bank and Request a Brochure or email for more information

DONATION OPTIONS AND ELIGIBILITY For comparative neurobiological investigations brain tissue is being collected from:
• normal individuals with no neurological or neuropsychiatric disorders
• individuals diagnosed with a neurobiological disorder
• individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia or manic depressive illness
• parents, siblings and offspring of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia or manic depressive illness
• individuals who have no blood-line familial diagnosis with a neurobiological disorder.

Brain Donation for HD Research 

To foster cutting-edge Huntington’s disease drug discovery research, there is great need for brain donations from HD families. A brain donation is a gift of knowledge that is essential to enhance our understanding of HD. Although deciding to become a prospective brain donor can be difficult, signing up is a simple process. Any person 18 years of age or older can complete the “Brain Donation Registration.”  

It’s important that prospective donors inform their family members of their decision to pre-register for brain donation. There are local options to register for brain donation, but a good place to start in making this decision and finding locations to register is the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC). HBTRC accepts brain donations from HD gene-expansion carriers, at-risk individuals regardless of whether they know their gene status, and healthy controls. They accept donations from all over the country and work with families to coordinate the process regardless of location.  

Registration to become a donor is non-binding. You can change your decision at any time. Registering ahead of time helps family members prepare so that, when a loved one passes, they can make a contribution that could benefit the lives of others without having to make a difficult decision during a very trying time. 
To Register as a Brain Donor:  

Visit the HBTRC website, email, or call 800-BRAIN-BANK (800-272-4622) for more information. 

How Does Brain Donation Work?  

Step 1: Have a discussion with family members about brain donation. Don’t forget to inform healthcare providers and funeral professionals. Register with HBTRC.  

Step 2: At the time of impending death, or immediately after death, family members or caretakers should call 1-800-BRAIN BANK (1-800-272-4622). HBTRC Donation Coordinators can be reached by phone 24/7 to guide the legal next-of-kin through the process of brain donation and carry out a screening process. The brain donation must be completed within 24 hours (from the time of death to the time the tissue samples are stored at the HBTRC). It is very important to contact the HBTRC as soon as possible.  

Step 3: Once HBTRC staff members confirm that the HBTRC can accept the brain donation, they will guide the legal next-of-kin/legal representative through the consent process.  

Step 4: HBTRC staff will coordinate with qualified professionals in the area who will harvest the brain tissue locally and take care of all transport logistics. Brain recovery often takes place in a funeral home or hospital and must happen within hours following the death of the donor.  

Step 5: Shortly after the brain donation, HBTRC will send the legal next-of-kin instructions and forms to guide them through the process of releasing the donor’s medical records and completing a questionnaire about the donor. 
Frequently Asked Questions 

What should I consider when deciding to donate? 

This is an extremely personal decision, and it is vitally important to have a family discussion about your wishes regarding brain donation. It may also be helpful to speak with trusted healthcare professionals about the value that organ donation can bring to HD research. You may also want to discuss any cultural or religious implications with funeral professionals or spiritual counsels.  

Will there be a financial cost to the family?  

No. There is no financial cost associated with any step in the brain donation process, including registration, donation, or transport.  

Will brain donation interfere with funeral arrangements?  

No. The HBTRC will work closely with families and funeral homes to ensure that this will not delay or interfere with plans for a funeral, cremation, or burial.  

Can the donor still have an open casket?  

Yes. Brain removal can be carried out in a way that is compatible with an open-casket funeral.  

Will brain donation conflict with religious practices? 

Many religious groups, including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and others, support tissue donation for research as an altruistic, humanitarian gift to the living consistent with the basic tenets of these faiths.  

What will happen to my/my loved one’s brain?  

It will be carefully examined by a neuropathologist and then stored. Small tissue samples will be sent to qualified researchers within the US and across the world – the donation will be essential to investigations into how HD affects the human brain. Each donated brain will provide hundreds of samples to researchers conducting HD research for many years.  

Are there any medical or logistical restrictions on brain donation?  

Some medical circumstances may prevent a brain from being viable for donation. For example, HBTRC may not be able to accept brain donations from people who died because of a stroke or head injury because there may be too much damage to the brain for it to be used for research. Other factors may hinder the ability to donate, such as unforeseen logistical challenges, difficulty obtaining medical information, or family disagreements around donation.  

I am identified as an organ donor on my driver’s license. Is this sufficient to ensure that my brain will be donated for research?  

No. Organ donation preference status on an ID card is about donating organs for transplant, not for medical research.  

Will any of my/my loved one’s personally-identifying information be shared? 

No. All identifying information is strictly confidential and will not be disclosed to third parties. Brain samples are coded at HBTRC to ensure that the donor and their family remain anonymous.