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Donate Your Brain for Mental Health Research

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Brain donation helps researchers study psychiatric and neurological disorders, which affect millions of people each year. Learn about why people donate their brains, the process of brain donation, and how you can sign up to make this generous gift. Your donation will help researchers understand the brain, find better treatments, and improve the lives and well-being of future generations.

Why donate your brain?

The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the universe. This small organ, weighing only three pounds, is the seat of our intelligence. It helps us make sense of what we see, hear, and feel, and controls our movement and behavior. Sometimes parts of the brain may not work or communicate properly, and this can lead to mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Researchers have made incredible progress in understanding these disorders, but there are still many unanswered questions.

That’s where you can help. Brain donation provides an opportunity to help researchers better understand how to prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure disorders of the human brain for future generations. By studying the brains of people who have died — including people who had brain-based disorders and people who were healthy during life —researchers learn more about how the brain works and how we might better treat and prevent brain disorders. One donated brain can make a huge impact, potentially providing information for hundreds of studies.

The NIH NeuroBioBank  has partnered with the Brain Donor Project  to help potential donors register for brain donation.

Who can donate?

Anyone age 18 or older can choose to donate their brain after death. People younger than 18 can choose to donate their brain with consent from a legal guardian.

Researchers are interested in studying brains from healthy people and from people with known brain disorders. They are also interested in studying brains from people of different races and ethnicities, genders, geographic locations, and sexual orientations.

What is the National Institutes of Health (NIH) NeuroBioBank?

The NIH NeuroBioBank  works with participating research centers to make brain samples available to researchers who are working to understand brain disorders. The NeuroBioBank coordinates researcher requests and distributes brain tissue and other resources, including medical records and clinical data (when available). Visit the NIH NeuroBioBank website to learn more about how to become a brain donor .

The NIH NeuroBioBank has partnered with a nonprofit organization called the Brain Donor Project  to provide potential donors a user-friendly and simplified enrollment process.

How do I become a donor?

If you are considering brain donation, talk with your loved ones early in your decision-making process to make sure they know about and understand your wishes. Talking to family and friends early may reduce stress and misunderstanding at the time of donation. You will also need to choose someone you trust to help make sure that your donation happens according to your wishes when the time comes. To start the process of becoming a brain donor, for yourself or on behalf of another person:

  1. Complete the Brain Donor Project preregistration form online. The form asks for donor information, including contact information, and information about gender, race, and ethnicity. The form also asks about any brain-related diagnoses the potential donor may have.
  2. Choose whether you want to receive the rest of the registration forms by U.S. postal mail or by email.
  3. Complete, sign, and return the consent and release forms that you receive from your assigned brain bank.

Potential donors should be aware that brain banks may not be able to accept every brain donation.

Brain donation is a tremendous gift to the future. It touches the lives of not only the donor but also their cherished family, the wider community, and the countless generations that follow. If you’re interested in helping to advance our understanding of brain disorders and how we might treat and prevent them, we invite you to explore the possibility of becoming a brain donor.

Last reviewed: September 2023