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Body and Tissue Donation

Brains for Dementia Research aims to promote brain donation and establish a network of brain banks to facilitate research into dementia.

The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) is mandated to license and inspect organisations that use human tissue for purposes such as research, public display, post mortem examinations, treatment and education.  If you would like to donate your body or tissues for research or education the HTA has a wealth of information to make this process clearer and more accessible.

UK Brain Banks Network

BRAIN UK is a member of the MRC UK Brain Banks Network that serves to co-ordinate brain banking facilities and services within the UK in order to facilitate high quality neurological research.

British Neuropathological Society

The British Neuropathological Society (BNS) is the main professional organisation for clinical and experimental neuropathology in the UK and is an active supporter of BRAIN UK.

British Neuroscience Association

The British Neuroscience Association (BNA) is the largest body in the UK representing all aspects of neuroscience. It aims to promote a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the development, structure and function of the nervous system in health and disease.

Information for the Lay Community

Post mortems

A post mortem examination (PM) or autopsy is a procedure carried out on a deceased individual in order to determine a cause of death. The individual who undertakes this procedure, the pathologist, is a doctor who has specialised in medical diagnosis. PMs are performed either when ordered by the Coroner (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or the Procurator Fiscal (in Scotland) to investigate sudden or unexplained death or, less commonly, within the hospital environment to determine the course of an illness or to undertake medical research.

During a PM examination the patholgist will weigh, measure and describe the body and organs of the deceased and they will typically take samples of certain orgains (e.g. brain, heart, kidneys) in order to examine them using a microscope. Although information is forthcoming by examining whole organs, changes to cells, tissues and organs detected under a microscope can be highly indicative of a particular disease process and greatly aids in determining a cause of death.

Click for further information about PMs in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.


A PM ordered by a Coroner is a legal investigation into a cause of death and does not require the consent of the next of kin of the deceased however, a PM performed under any other circumstance does require such consent. It is now standard practice that after a PM examination, the fate of any sampled tissues are determined by the next of kin. This may include return for burial or cremation, but families often give permission for some preserved tissue to be stored by hospitals so that it can be made available for medical education, research and audit into the quality of medical care.

Click for more information about consent relating to PM examinations.

The Human Tissue Act 2004 and Human Tissue Act (Scotland) 2005

After much publicised retention of human organs without consent in the 1990s legislation was passed in order to prevent this happening again in the form of the Human Tissue Act (HTA). Although seperate legislation exisits between the four nations of the Union they share the key requirement for consent for the storage of tissue removed at surgery or during a PM.

The HTA and its requirement for consent only applies to those medical procedures that occur on or after 1st September 2006 (the date the HTA became law). Prior to this date, preserved tissue maintained by a hospital (known as 'Existing Holdings') may be used for research if the tissue is in an anonymised format (that is, the individual cannot be identified by the researcher) and that the intended research has been given approval by a Research Ethics Committee (REC). RECs combine medical, legal and lay individuals and they scrutinise research to protect the rights and well-being of research subjects (and their families) and to ensure that research will further scientific knowledge and ultimately benefit society.

Click for further information about the Human Tissue Act and the Human Tissue Authority which regulates the use of tissue for research in the UK.

Click for further information about Research Ethics Committees.


PMs play a particularly important role into the research of human health and disease as they provide detailed knowledge of how disease and disease processes affect the human body. Indeed, the historic use of PMs has greatly aided and accelerated our knowledge of medicine.

BRAIN UK has been established in order to ensure that the best possible use is made of the PM diagnostic archives of NHS centres around the UK for high quality research into neurological disorders. Although there are an increasing number of 'tissue banks' dedicated to particular diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease) BRAIN UK intends to augment these by providing access to tissue from rarer diseases and dementias, psychiatric disorders (e.g. schizophrenia) and from increasingly common casues of death and illness that no longer promote a PM (e.g. stroke).

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