Northwestern University Protocol and Shipping Instructions

Brain Support Network helps families make arrangements to donate a loved one’s brain for research and so the neurological diagnosis can be confirmed.

Occasionally, we are asked by brain banks to assist in recovery of brain tissue to support research.  One such brain bank we occasionally help is Northwestern University (NU)’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center Brain Bank at the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Below, we provide the latest research protocol for NU, including 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.)  Slice off no more than a half-inch of the right frontal pole; that part is frozen (any type of freezer is fine).  The remainder of the brain is fixed in 10% formalin.  NU provides containers and dry ice, and pays for FedEx shipping.


Northwestern University Alzheimer’s Disease Center Brain Bank – Research Protocol (for outside cases)

Last Updated: November 2021

Thank you for assisting us in obtaining a brain donation from our research participant. Please pay special attention to these instructions to ensure that the brain is received in a condition that assures the highest quality autopsy.

If you have questions, please call (312) 503-5506, Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm CST.

We will provide boxes and shipment labels for both frozen and fixed brain portions. PLEASE DO NOT SEND FROZEN PORTIONS WITHOUT DRY ICE!

1. Preparation of Fresh Brain:

a) Slice an approximately ½ inch (NO MORE PLEASE!) slab from the right frontal pole (see diagram below).

b) Place in plastic zip-loc bag or wrap tightly in aluminum foil, label with name or autopsy number, and place in freezer. -80˚C is preferred, but if unavailable, any freezer will do.

c) Ship on dry ice Monday through Wednesday ONLY, FedEx overnight, to be delivered the following business day morning. Brain may thaw if delivered on other days.

2. Fix Remainder of Brain:

a) Immerse in 10% formalin for at least 2 weeks. Please suspend the brain with a string from the cerebral vessels and wedge the string between the container and its cover. This will prevent sagging and distortion of the specimen during fixation.

b) After the 2-week fixation, place the brain into a large zip-loc bag with several paper towels moistened with formalin. Place this bag into another X 2 to protect against leakage.

c) Ship well-cushioned in a large box.

When you ship the brain to us, please be sure to include a sheet with the following information:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Date and time of death
  • Date and time of the removal/fixation
  • Fresh brain weight

Shipping Address:

Margaret Flanagan, MD
Northwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center Brain Bank
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
300 East Superior Street, Tarry 8-775
Chicago, IL 60611