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Donor Frequently Asked Questions

Who may donate?

Anyone. A competent person over age 18 years of age may donate. For persons under 18, a legal guardian must provide consent and make arrangements.

What is a brain bank or Neurobank?

A brain bank is a central repository of brain tissue that has been donated for future research. These centralized resources make it possible for researchers with a particular interest to request tissue, body fluids, or cell lines for their investigations. 

I need to have a brain disorder to become a donor?

No. To ensure research is thorough, it is also extremely important to have access to brain tissue from deceased people who did not have brain diseases. This is known as control tissue and it is crucial that scientists have access to this so that they can compare it directly with tissue from a person with a disease.

If an individual donates his or her brain, can he or she have an open casket viewing?

Yes. Brain removal does not cause disfigurement.

Can I donate brain tissue as well as my body?                                                       

Yes. A brain donation would not necessarily rule a patient ineligible for a whole body donation. Whole body donors can inquire with the Deeded Body Program prior to registration. 

Brian Chapman
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
51 Newton Road
100 Bowen Science Building
Iowa City, Iowa 52242
Phone: 1-319-335-7762
Email: brian-chapman@uiowa.edu

Will brain donation interfere with my funeral arrangements?

No. The autopsy is usually conducted within 1-2 days of death, and does not limit or affect funeral options in any way.  A Brain donation autopsy will not delay or interfere with the family's plans for a funeral, cremation, or burial. We work closely with families and funeral homes to ensure that donation does not interfere with funeral arrangement. Advanced planning allows the coordination process to go more smoothly and may reduce the emotional stress a family feels at the time of a loved one’s passing.

How long after death can a decision to donate be made?

Brain donations must be performed within 24 hours from the time of death in order to ensure optimal preservation of the tissue and maximize the research value.

Are there costs to the donor or family?

No. If you are eligible and interested in being a brain donor for research purposes (in addition to regular autopsy), transportation and the cost incurred for brain removal may be free of cost.  Funeral expenses however, remain the responsibility of the family the same as they would if donation were not made.

What happens to my brain after donation?

Following brain donation, a brain autopsy is performed to confirm clinical diagnosis. The whole brain is removed and prepared for analysis and future research.

Who should I contact to make arrangements for donation?

If you or a family member is interested in registering as a donor, please contact UIHC Decedent Care Center at 319-467-7000 to begin the process. When the time comes, next of kin should contact the Decedent Care Center. The Decedent Care Specialist and your funeral home will make the necessary arrangements.

Do I have to pre-register to be a donor?

Pre-registration is not required, though it is preferable. However, consent can be given by next of kin immediately following death. It is strongly encouraged that interested individuals talk with their family and friends about brain donation, advise them of their decision on donation, and to register for donation if that is their choice. Advanced planning allows the coordination process to go more smoothly and may reduce the emotional stress a family feels at the time of a loved one’s passing.

 I have registered to be an organ donor on my driver's license, does this include my brain?

No, organ donation and brain donation are separate matters. The sticker on your drivers license does not give brain banks permission to receive a brain.

Will any of my information be shared after donation?

The identity of each donor remains strictly confidential. Specifically, research results are not written in the medical file and the donor's name will not be included in any piece of information sent to researchers. All distributed samples are coded in order to guarantee donor anonymity. Researchers using these de-identified samples through the NeuroBank will not return any scientific results to the next-of-kin or family members of donors.

Are there incentives for brain donation?

Donation is voluntary and has no financial benefits. However, many donors and their families share a common satisfaction knowing that they are contributing to the health and well-being of others affected by similar brain disorders. Brain donation makes studying and discovering cures to neurological diseases possible for future patients. Most donors and their families see this as a legacy that creates a lasting contribution toward improved health of future patients.

Any religious considerations?

Many individuals wonder if agreeing to an autopsy or brain donation goes against religious beliefs.

Though the answers vary from one denomination to another, the majority of religions do support post-mortem brain tissue donation and research. While some faiths have particular laws regarding the circumstances and processes of donation, the mandate to heal and the call to compassion are recognized as fundamental to all religions.

Here we cover perspectives from some faiths on organ and tissue donation for transplantation or for research. Please note that while some answers may cover both topics, the Iowa Brain Bank is for research only, we do not provide tissue for medical or therapeutic use. However, we would encourage you to discuss your questions and concerns with your own minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader while you are considering donation.