Brain Support Network helps families make arrangements to donate a loved one’s brain for research and so the neurological diagnosis can be confirmed.
Most of the time, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida (“Mayo Jax”) is the brain bank where these brains are donated.
Below, we will keep the latest research protocol for Mayo Jax along with their shipping instructions. Note that the whole brain is donated.
In short, the whole brain must be removed within 24 hours of death though note that 12 hours of death is preferred. (And even sooner is better.) The brain is split in half. The right half is frozen while the left half is fixed. (I remember this by noting that frozen contains an “R” as does right.) Mayo Jax provides containers and dry ice, and pays for FedEx shipping.
Plus, we list below Brain Support Network’s shipping suggestions. These have been developed over many years of stories using FedEx as the shipping agent.
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville – Research Protocol
Last Updated: February 2016
Thank you for enabling us to establish a diagnosis of neurological disease and to obtain tissue for special studies and research in neurological diseases. Please perform the harvest as soon as possible after death, preferably within 12 hours (up to 24 hours is still acceptable). The time lapse between death and autopsy should be noted as well as the fresh brain weight when drained of CSF.
Split the brain down the middle through the corpus callosum, cerebellar vermis and brainstem. Put the right hemisphere in a plastic bag into the coldest possible freezer (preferably at -70˚C). In order to prevent distortion of the specimen, put the medial aspect of the brain down flat, so that it will freeze in its normal shape. The left hemibrain is simply immersed in formalin, buffered to neutrality.
We will send the report of our findings to you. We can also provide an extra set of slides, if desired. We will provide a letter and a copy of the report to next-of-kin regarding our findings.
Please call Dr. Dickson at one of the numbers given above if you have any questions.
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville – Shipping Instructions
Last Updated: February 2016
When ready to ship, the frozen specimen is packed in 48 hours worth of dry ice in a Styrofoam shipping container. The formalin fixed specimen is wrapped in paper towels that are damp with formalin, put into a leak-proof plastic bag in a separate shipping container, wrapped separately from the frozen one.
The Autopsy Information Form should be filled out and sent along with the tissue. Both boxes (do not tie together) are to be sent overnight by Federal Express, Priority One Delivery. We can provide shipping containers and dry ice if needed, and will be happy to provide you with our FedEx number to cover the cost of shipping the tissue.
Both packages should be addressed to:
Please send the tissue early in the week so as to avoid delivery during the weekend when no one will be here. Do not ship on Thursdays or Fridays.
Brain Support Network’s Shipping Suggestions
Last Updated: September 2019
1. Many pathology service providers prefer to send the frozen hemisphere as soon as possible (keeping in mind Mayo Jax’s shipping requirements) and wait until the hemisphere in formalin is fully fixed before sending it. It is our understanding from discussions with Mayo Jax, that Mayo Jax does not require the tissue in formalin to be fully fixed before sending.
2. The formalin fixed-specimen (left hemibrain) should be wrapped in formalin-soaked towels and double-bagged. Take care not to over-fill the “inside” bag with formalin as leakage/spoilage was a recent problem that resulted in FedEx suspending transport of a shipment. Any good quality Styrofoam shipping container can be used.
3. Double bag both the formalin and frozen hemibrains prior to shipping. Avoid using RED biohazard bags, altogether. Dry ice damages this type of plastic.
4. Label the outside of the bags in both shipping containers with the donor’s name and DOB using a dark colored Sharpie marker.
In the off-chance you are shipping tissue from two donations together (frozen specimens in one container and fixed specimens in a second container), place each hemibrain in two Ziploc bags and label the outside bag with the donor’s name using a black Sharpie marker, writing directly on the bag. Do NOT use stick-on labels or tape, as these fall off.
5. Under no circumstances should wet ice be used for shipping. Dry ice only should be used for the right hemibrain. Any good quality Styrofoam shipping container can be used.
6. The information sheets (with any attached pages) should be included in each of two containers.
7. The brain must be shipped early in the week because there’s no one at Mayo Jax to receive the shipment on the weekends. Never ship on Thursday or Friday, and do not ship when the next day is a holiday. Given recent problems with FedEx and the container with dry ice we strongly advise against shipping on Wednesday. Best to ship on Monday or Tuesday and track the shipments closely.
8. Before shipping, please check the FedEx website for service alerts to be sure that there are no weather conditions in Florida, Tennessee (FedEx hub), or other locations that would delay shipping. FedEx’s webpage is:
FedEx has a link on its website to the National Weather Service’s weather map, showing severe weather.
9. Note that some pathology service providers have reported that FedEx has been unwilling to pick up or accept containers with dry ice.
If you are wanting FedEx to pick up the containers, call 1-800-GoFedEx or, if you have a FedEx account, log in.
Please double-check with FedEx delivery staff who pick up from a usual location as to whether they have a problem with picking up dry ice.
If you are wanting to drop off containers, note that regular FedEx locations will accept containers with dry ice. Many FedEx Office locations will not. If you have questions about this, please call 1-800-GoFedEx.
10. We’ve also had the situation where FedEx has accepted a container with dry ice, only to return it or delay delivery. Once, in January 2016, a regular FedEx location accepted the package containing dry ice and then returned it to the pathology specialist’s address a few hours later, offering no explanation as to why it had been accepted earlier at the FedEx location only to be rejected later. Twice in May 2016, FedEx delayed the delivery to Mayo of two containers where the label showed dry ice (“ICE”) was included. Fortunately in both cases, tissue was shipped out on a Monday so we had a couple of days’ leeway to address the problem with FedEx.
11. Immediately after shipping, please send a cell phone photo via text to Brain Support Network (cell phone 650-814-0848 – accepts texts) of the tracking numbers of the two containers. Or, send an email.
12. Around the year-end holidays, Mayo will often request that shipment be delayed. It is best around the year-end to check with Mayo or Brain Support Network in advance of shipping.
13. Note that hurricane season officially begins on June 1st every year.