Our mission is to increase brain donation to advance science, leading to the treatment and cure of neurological, neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. We will achieve our mission of making growing brain donation by increasing awareness and simplifying the process of donating post-mortem human brains for research.
The Brain That Started It All
One man’s gift of life inspired the Brain Donor Project—and its efforts to raise awareness and simplify the process of brain donation for research. The Brain Donor Project was inspired by Gene Armentrout, who died in March 2015, after suffering from Lewy Bodies Dementia. Gene had planned to donate his body for anatomical study to a nearby medical school, and when his family learned that Gene’s brain would be valuable for LBD research, they knew he’d want to be a brain donor, too. The NeuroBioBank at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was less than two years old at the time, and it wasn’t widely known that many kinds of brains – those with neurological disorders and those without (control brains)—were urgently needed for scientific research. When Gene’s family learned of the NeuroBioBank’s work to make available high-quality, well-characterized brain tissue for study, they wanted to help people understand the critical need and simplify the process of making the gift.
Put simply, there is no better way to understand the circuitry and biological processes underlying every thought and action than to study the brain itself. Recent advances in genomic technologies have paved the way for rapid progress in defining genetic underpinnings of human disorders. These breakthroughs for complex brain disorders require high quality post-mortem brain tissue, and thus the need for these tissues has greatly intensified over the past decade. To aid researchers and expedite study of these disorders, the NIH in late 2013 created the NeuroBioBank, which established a new framework for collecting, processing, storing and distributing human brain tissue.
Currently six brain banks are contracted to collect tissue for study of various disorders and allow scientists to request samples to support their research studies. In its first two years, the NeuroBioBank supplied more than 10,000 tissue specimens to support the almost $70 million in research funding that has included post-mortem human brain research. Certain areas of the brain are in high demand to study specific disorders, and low supplies will slow progress toward cures and treatments.
The current need for postmortem brain tissue is considerable and will certainly grow. There are now more than 400 disorders represented in the NeuroBioBank collection and the demand for specific disorders and key brain regions implicated in those disorders can quickly deplete valuable resources. The need for well-matched control tissues from relatively unaffected individuals is just as critical to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure diseases of the brain. Arranging for brain donation upon death is a priceless gift to medical research that helps save lives and improve the quality of life for generations to come.
The Brain Donor Project was established in April 2016 as non-profit corporation and was granted tax-exempt status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) on May 20, 2016. It is governed by a Board of Directors, which includes representation from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which oversee the NeuroBioBank of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The blue patterned background at the top of the home page of the Brain Donor Project website is an actual histology image of the donated brain of Gene Armentrout. The image is enhanced to highlight the protein deposits that are the hallmark of Lewy Bodies Dementia.