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Brain Donation Program

Autopsy: The Gift of Knowledge

Among the many types of Alzheimer's disease research, neuropathological study has produced some of the most dramatic increases in understanding and steps toward improved diagnosis and treatment. Neuropathological research is made possible by persons who donate their brain to research. By consenting to autopsy, patients and family members can give the "gift of knowledge" and contribute to the international research agenda to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Why is brain autopsy important?

To confirm diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease: Neuropathological confirmation remains the gold standard for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis.

To contribute to research: The greatest research contribution comes from autopsy study in people who have participated in research during life.

I am not a research participant; can I still donate my brain?

We very much appreciate your thoughtfulness and willingness to donate your/a relative's brain for Alzheimer's disease research. Unfortunately, if you/your relative was not part of a clinical study at UCLA, the research value of the brain is decreased substantially.

I don't have Alzheimer's disease. Is my brain donation helpful?

Yes. Healthy brains offer information about the normal aging process and provide a valuable comparison to brains that have been affected by Alzheimer's. Family members and friends of Alzheimer's disease patients can also agree to have an autopsy. In all cases, brain donation is most valuable in persons who participated in research during life.

Do I have to decide now?

You may decide at any time. If you decide to donate, you must complete an autopsy consent form.

When should plans for autopsy be made?

As soon as possible. It is much easier to plan for autopsy in advance. Arrangements should be made as soon as you decide to consent to autopsy.

Can there still be a normal funeral?

Yes. Brain donation and autopsy will not prevent funeral plans.

Is brain donation compatible with most religions?

Yes, it is compatible for most religions---the only issue might be for a religion requiring burial within a day of death because the UCLA facilities are closed on Sunday. If a patient passes away on a Saturday night the autopsy would normally be done Monday morning. Individuals are encouraged to speak with their religious leader about brain donation.

What does my family get after the autopsy is complete?

Your family will receive a complete written report of the autopsy findings within 60 days.

Is there any cost for autopsy?

If you/your relative was ever a patient at UCLA for any reason (i.e. you/your relative has a UCLA medical record number) there is no charge. If you/your relative was never seen at UCLA, we are obliged, per UCLA Medical Center policy, to charge for examining the brain. The fee is currently approximately $1,500.00.

I have decided to donate my brain. Now what?

Advance planning is important. In addition to signing an autopsy consent form and making your plans known to your funeral home, it is important to discuss this decision with your family so that everyone is prepared.

When you have made the decision to proceed, there are two options:

  1. If you are interested in participating in research, call (310) 794-6039.
  2. If you are already enrolled in research, please contact us for the autopsy consent forms at (310) 794-3167 and we will be happy to mail them to you.

If your loved one has previously participated in research and signed an autopsy consent form and is at the end of life, please follow these steps.

Step 1 Within 6 hours of death (or as soon as possible), call the Easton Center at (310) 794-3167 during business hours, or the Page Operator at (310) 825-6301 during non-business hours.
Step 2 A transport service will be contacted for pick-up. UCLA pays for one-way transportation from the home/facility to UCLA at no cost.
Step 3 The autopsy will be performed at UCLA. Transportation to a mortuary should be arranged in advance.
Step 4 UCLA Decedent Affairs will contact the mortuary for body pick-up.
Step 5 You will receive a detailed autopsy report within 60 days.