Why people donate their brain to science: a systematic review

Meng Jiun Penny Lin*, Tanisha Jowsey, Maurice A. Curtis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
63 Downloads (Pure)


The acquisition of brain tissue for research purposes is an important endeavour in research on ageing, pathological diagnosis, and the advancement of treatment of neurological or neurodegenerative diseases. While some tissue samples can be obtained from a living patient, the procurement of a whole brain requires the donation from people after their death. In order to promote positive attitudes towards brain donation, it is essential to understand why people do or do not donate their brain to medical research. In 2018 we undertook a systematic review of the international literature concerning people’s attitudes, motivations, and feelings about brain donation. Five electronic databases were searched: Scopus, PsycINFO, Embase, Medline, and Google Scholar. Search terms included: (“brain donor*” OR “brain donation” OR “brain banking” OR “banking on brain”) AND (attitude* OR motivation* OR decision*”) AND (LIMIT-TO “human”) AND (LIMIT-TO (LANGUAGE, “English”)). Articles were analysed using the Framework for Assessing Qualitative Evaluations and a meta-ethnographic approach. Fourteen articles were included for review. The findings suggest four universal factors informing a person’s decision to donate their brain: (1) contextual knowledge, (2) conceptual understandings, (3) family/friends matter, and (4) personal experience, time and process. The findings also indicate that the way healthcare professionals present themselves can influence people’s feelings and attitudes towards brain donation. Healthcare and research professionals who are involved in brain donation processes must be mindful of the complex and multiple factors that influence donation outcomes. Effective and sensitive communication with potential donors and their family/friends is paramount.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-466
Number of pages20
JournalCell and Tissue Banking
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


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