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Neurology - Alzheimers

Houston, Texas

The Cullen Building at Baylor College of Medicine.
Department of Neurology
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Brain Donation Autopsy Program

The Brain Donation Autopsy Program is limited to those individuals who were diagnosed and followed as a patient or control subject of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

The ADMDC participates in basic science research on Alzheimer's disease, in part, through the maintenance of a brain tissue donation program. All ADMDC patients have the option of participating in scientific research by electing to donate their brains to the Center at the time of their death.

The decision to donate your brain is a very personal one, and should be considered once a diagnosis of AD is made. Some patients elect to donate their tissue because they want their families to have confirmation of the clinical diagnosis that was originally made. In this case, someone diagnosed with AD may donate their brain for autopsy to reassure their family members that the diagnosis they received was accurate. On autopsy, a pathologist looks at slides of brain tissue under the microscope to determine if the hallmark signs of AD are present (e.g., neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques), which allows for confirmation of diagnosis. While a comprehensive work up for AD will provide an accurate diagnosis more than 90% of the time, confirming the diagnosis through autopsy ensures loved ones that the patient received the appropriate care, and that no other or additional condition was contributing to their loved one's illness.

Some individuals choose to donate their brains to science for altruistic reasons. In other words, they donate tissue for the greater good of society, hoping that an advance in treatment or clearer understanding of the cause of AD will be revealed through research. Many believe that by donating their tissue, they may help younger generations and ensure a better future for their own children and grandchildren.

In order to make an informed decision about whether to donate your brain, there are several things for you to consider. First, the procedure is limited to autopsy of the brain tissue. A full body autopsy will not be performed. The procedure itself is a simple one. When performed under the supervision of a pathologist, it does not leave visible marks, and will not interfere with plans for an open casket funeral. The sooner the tissue can be removed, the more viable it is for purposes of research. However, if the tissue cannot be removed within the first 6 hours, embalmed tissue can still be used for research.

Currently, the cost of brain tissue autopsy is waived for patients who have been evaluated and diagnosed by the ADMDC. However, families must cover the cost of transporting their loved one to and from the pathologist's office. Once you have decided on donation, it is important to speak with the funeral home you intend to use to determine if they are willing to transport your loved one to the medical center for the procedure. If you live far away, you should ask the funeral home to help you locate a local pathologist who may be willing to remove the brain tissue, which can then be sent to BCM ADMDC for autopsy. Be sure to ask the pathologist what the charge is for removing the tissue. Sometimes pathologists will waive the fee or perform the procedure at a reduced cost if you inform them that the tissue is being donated to science.

If you or your loved one are a BCM ADMDC patient or normal control subject, a preliminary consent form should be completed and signed. You should keep a copy for yourself, and distribute copies to your family members. A copy should be sent to our office as well. Should you enter the hospital, inform the nursing staff of your desire for brain autopsy, and provide a copy of the preliminary consent for filing in your chart. Even though you have signed a preliminary consent, your next of kin must give verbal consent for a post-mortem examination of your brain. Legal consent to perform the procedure will be requested at the time of your death. Discussing your desire for autopsy early on with your loved ones, and signing a preliminary consent will help ensure your wish for autopsy is carried out after your death.

In the event of death, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Contact Dr. Suzanne Powell, ADMDC neuropathologist: 713-441-6486 or page her at 281-735-5842. Inform her of your loved one's death.
  2. If Dr. Powell is unavailable, call The Methodist Hospital page operator 713-790-2201 and ask to have the neuropathologist on call paged.
  3. Tell Dr. Powell or the neuropathologist the following:
    • Name of the deceased
    • That your loved one is a patient of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center (ADMDC) at Baylor College of Medicine
    • That you are seeking brain autopsy as part of the ADMDC autopsy program.
  4. Call the Admitting Office at The Methodist Hospital 713-394-6881 to give verbal consent to post-mortem autopsy of your loved one. Tell them that you are calling to give permission for an autopsy to be performed on a patient of the BCM Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center.
  5. Contact your funeral home to arrange transportation to the pathologist. Speak with Dr. Powell first to determine when the procedure will be performed.

If you have questions about autopsy, please contact one of our autopsy coordinators to discuss your concerns 713-798-7431 or 713-798-7440.

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