Donating to the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank

Freeman Brothers is an independent funeral director in West Sussex, first established in Horsham in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to provide advice and support to local communities, as well as the arrangement of funeral services. This week, Community […]

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Freeman Brothers is an independent funeral director in West Sussex, first established in Horsham in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to provide advice and support to local communities, as well as the arrangement of funeral services. This week, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, has been researching a scheme known as the Brain Bank…

The process of donating a brain to the Brain Bank has recently been raised here at Freeman Brothers and, whilst many of us are familiar with the request to donate a body to medical science, we were far less acquainted with this concept! Due to that realisation, I thought it was time to do some research, and share the details.

What is the purpose of the Brain Bank?
Brains are one of the most difficult parts of bodies to study, because invasive examination of them can only be done after a person has died. This limits the research which can be done whilst people are alive and disease is progressing (or not, as the case may be), so the next best thing is to be able to study tissue after someone has died. The Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank aims to advance research into Parkinson’s, which is a progressive neurological condition.

The Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank is the only one in the world which focuses specifically on Parkinson’s. Based at Imperial College in London, it relies upon donated tissue in order to advance critical research.

What happens if I choose to donate my brain?
If you decide to donate your brain and have completed the required paperwork in advance, after your death, the Brain Bank will harvest your brain and spinal cord, providing you are still eligible. As with donating a body to medical science, there are some circumstances under which it’s not possible for your donation to be accepted.

You can also still choose to donate other organs, and remain eligible for donation to the Brain Bank. The only donation scheme which isn’t compatible is donation of your full body, as bodies are required to be intact for this purpose. The Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank also accepts donations from those who haven’t received this kind of diagnosis – they refer to these brains as ‘control’ brains, so that they can compare brains which aren’t impacted with ones which are, in order to observe the differences and advance understanding of what happens when something has gone wrong.

When you die, the Brain Bank must be informed as soon as possible, and your body placed into appropriate storage – ideally within four hours of your death. There is therefore an implication here for funeral directors and those caring for you – a funeral director will need to be advised as soon as possible, and your loved ones will need to be prepared for you to be taken into their care. After your doctor has completed paperwork to confirm the cause of death, the Brain Bank representatives will be able to visit and collect the required tissues.

Will I be able to have a funeral after donating my brain?
For many people, a positive of donating their brain only will be that there is no delay to funeral arrangements being made. When bodies are donated to medical science, they are handed over for an extended period of time. Cremation is then arranged by the relevant medical school and cremated remains returned to the person’s next of kin. This process may take several years.

In the case of Brain Bank donation, the tissue will be collected quickly and sympathetically, allowing for a funeral to be arranged as usual in the weeks following your death. It should also be possible to arrange visits in the Chapel of Rest following brain donation. Our policy at Freeman Brothers is always to offer advice as to whether or not visiting will be appropriate, and we do our best to ensure that it will be, as we appreciate the importance of this service.

Currently, approximately 145,000 people in the UK are living with Parkinson’s, with two diagnoses made every hour. Schemes such as the Brain Bank, support vital research to improve the lives of those in this situation, and are well worth investigating if you are interested in helping.

Full information regarding donating to the Brain Bank can be found via Parkinson’s UK.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

August 2, 2023

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