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Brain Tissue Resource Facility

The Brain Tissue Resource Facility (Brain Bank) is a tissue library to enable the study of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders. The VCU Brain Bank provides an important research resource not just for VCU investigators, but is also made available more globally to researchers seeking brain tissues for their specific research. Research using donated brain tissue allows scientists to answer important questions about many brain diseases and further their understanding of normal and abnormal workings of the human brain. Research findings help create new targeted therapies for fighting multitudes of diseases. 

Many years of study, from multiple laboratories, has demonstrated that cell and animal models do not sufficiently replicate the pathways and course of the most devastating diseases we face.  Therefore, the use of actual human tissue to confirm any preliminary findings from animal models is critical for any scientific advancement towards curing these neurodegenerative diseases.  However, the limited supply of donated human brain tissues is directly related to the progress of understanding these conditions. To address the invaluable need for human brain tissue, the VCU Brain Tissue Resource Facility (Brain Bank) was established. The Brain Tissue Resource Facility (BTRF) at VCU Health was established in 2010 and is dedicated to helping families of patients with neurodegenerative diseases by exploring the possibility of an autopsy and human brain tissue donation for research. By bringing together the efforts of professionals from different disciplines within the VCU Health community, the BTRF makes it possible for families to gain the information needed about their loved one’s disease and have peace of mind that their loved one will help to one day find a cure for these diseases.

Why donate? One reason people donate their brain or a loved one’s brain is to obtain a confirmed diagnosis (from an autopsy report) of a neurological disorder. There is no blood test that can confirm the diagnoses for these conditions. Brain donation and autopsy are the only way to be certain what disease — or combination of diseases — was present.  Another reason for donation is to support research into the causes, treatments and cures for neurodegenerative disorders.  Discoveries made possible by tissue donation provide hope to families affected by brain disease. One donated brain can provide tissue for hundreds of independent research studies. The gift of brain donation enables discoveries that will have a lasting impact.  The legacy of donation offers future generations the possibility of improved health and someday, a cure.   The process The donor’s family plays a key role in the final decision of whether or not to obtain an autopsy and donate tissue. Family must give consent for the autopsy and brain donation to take place. This makes it very important that families and, if possible, the donor discuss and preplan the decision for donation. Donors must register for the program by contacting the Brain Tissue Resource Facility coordinator to initiate the registration process at (804) 828-9664 or by filling out a donor registration form (see  Forms Page ) and mailing it to the address provided.  Registration forms can also be emailed to brain.bank@vcuhealth.com or faxed to (804) 828-2010.  Information packets for the family, any nursing or hospice care facilities and for funeral directors can also be downloaded from this page. An autopsy will not be performed unless a valid consent is signed by the next of kin and a witness, and a signed death certificate is obtained. Consent for an autopsy and/or tissue donation may be withdrawn at any time.  

The donation process is simple, but there are two critical steps to ensure a timely donation.  There is a narrow window for donation (15 hours after time of death) so it is essential that the family organizes as much information as possible, prior to donation.  The Commonwealth of Virginia requires the completion of two forms prior to any autopsy.  The first step is to complete and return the autopsy consent form (see below) to the brain bank.  The autopsy consent form cannot be completed by the donor, but must be completed by the person designated by the Commonwealth as eligible to sign the form (please see tips for completing the autopsy consent form).  Once we receive a completed autopsy consent form, we can enter the donor information into our system.   The second critical step is to obtain a signed death certificate.  The DC is usually generated by the funeral director, so it is essential that he be involved in the donor process at an early step.  The DC does not need to be the state-embossed, formal form that can take up to a week to obtain.  However, the DC needs to be signed by the doctor (or NP/PA) that is overseeing the care of the donor. To facilitate the generation of the DC, is is advisable that the family of the donor meet with the funeral director and complete as much of the DC as possible ahead of time.  Both the consent for and DC can be faxed to the brain bank at (804) 828-2010.


Downloadable Forms:

1.   Information for Families    (Information for Families)

2.  Autopsy Consent Form  (Consent)

3.  Helpful Information to complete autopsy form   (Helpful Tips)

4. Patient Information Page (Patient Information)

5.  Information for Nursing Home or Hospice   (Nursing Facility)

6.  Information for Funeral Directors   (Funeral Directors)

7.  Brain Bank Brochure  (Brochure)


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the bank’s director, Dr. Severn Churn at (804) 828-9664. Please note, in the case of accidental death, the medical examiner’s office will take control of the body and override any donation arrangements.


For questions or if you are interested in learning more about becoming a brain tissue donor, please e-mail us at brain.bank@vcuhealth.org or call Dr. Ben Churn at 804-828-9664. You can also visit https://rampages.us/brainbank/.

For Investigators

The VCU Brain Tissue Resource Facility serves the scientific community by supplying specific brain tissue to confirm research findings from animal tissues.  The tissue is open to all research studies, but preference will be given to NIH-funded programs.  If you wish to obtain tissue from the VCU BTRF, please fill out the tissue request form, specifying disease type, brain area and preservation method.  Forms can be faxed to (804) 828-2010.


Fees will be assessed to cover obtaining of tissue, storage and processing.  Please contact the Brain Tissue Resource Facility director for current fees.


Tissue Request Form Tissue Request Form

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