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Brains for Dementia Research

The Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Research UK have come together to jointly fund the largest brain bank initiative to date. Brains for Dementia Research (BDR) was established in 2007 to promote brain donation and develop a network of brain tissue banks to facilitate research into dementia. 

BDR is a network of brain bank facilities across England and Wales that aims to provide a simple nationwide system for brain donation. We hope to enable more people to get involved in brain donation, thus boosting the number of brains available for this important research. Older people with or without a diagnosis of dementia can register with BDR. Participants are then monitored for memory, cognition and behaviour throughout their lives. This close personal involvement enables researchers to not only compare changes between dementia and 'control' brains, but to look for specific brain changes in relation to particular symptoms of dementia. 

Why carry out the research? 

The human brain is complex and difficult to study in living people. It is also too complicated to replicate in the laboratory. Therefore, much of the research into Alzheimer's disease and dementia relies on post-mortem examination of donated brain tissue. This research allows scientists to investigate the basic underlying causes of dementia and, if possible, to discover how they relate to the symptoms experienced by the person during life. This work is also essential for observing the effects of currently available treatments for dementia. Better understanding is the first step towards better treatments. 

Many people with dementia and their relatives are interested in the possibility of brain donation for research after their death. Scientists are very grateful for the generosity of the families concerned, especially as this process must be carried out very soon after the person's death. 

To ensure this research is thorough, it is also extremely important to have access to brain tissue from people who do not have dementia. This is known as control tissue and is in even shorter supply than tissue from people with dementia. It is crucial that scientists have control tissue so that they can compare it directly with tissue from a person with dementia. These valuable donations are essential for developing new and better treatments for people with dementia and in the search for a cure. 

How is the research being undertaken? 

There is currently a severe shortage of brain tissue available for dementia research and BDR has been funded in recognition of this. 

Brain tissue from regularly assessed individuals provides the very best resource for scientists working on understanding dementia. Linking progression of memory impairment with what is seen in the brain itself is essential to developing more effective treatments. 

The donated tissue will be used for ongoing research within the five-member brain banks of BDR, and other laboratories. Each establishment undertakes research of the highest calibre, reviewed by leading scientists in the field. Collectively, thousands of scientific papers have been published using donated tissue, in areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease and depression. These have contributed to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and recognition of other types of dementia and development of treatments. 

Where is it happening? 

Brains for Dementia Research is enabling five leading brain tissue banks (based at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience King's College London, Oxford University, Newcastle University, Manchester University, University of Bristol) and one tissue donation centre (Cardiff University) to recruit and clinically assess potential donors, collect, and provide donated brain tissue for quality research into causes and treatments for dementia. 

What is the timescale? 

The scheme is currently funded until 2021 however it is envisaged that this will be a long-term project, continuing beyond the 13 years initial funding. 

Project status: Ongoing

Contact us

Nicky Barnett - BDR Senior Manager 

Brains for Dementia Research Coordinating Centre Office 

Ground Floor, Edwardson Building 

Newcastle University 

Institute of Neuroscience Campus for Ageing and Vitality