Until now, brain tissue donation for scientific studies was done after the death of the patient. Now, some patients are donating parts of their brain obtained when they undergo neurosurgery, especially those who are operated on to treat epilepsy or various types of tumors. This practice, according to various neuroscientists, allows discoveries to be made that are not possible when brain tissue from cadavers or rodents is used. In a recent article published in Science magazine entitled “How to donate a piece of your brain to science—while you’re still alive” researchers answered for the biggest questions.
“There’s not a uniform way in the in the U.S. really to donate your brain, much less brain tissue,” says Karen Rommelfanger, a neuroethicist at Emory University and one of the authors of the article. But if donors want to do it, she says, they should be able to. “They feel it’s a way for their illness to help others.”
Rommelfanger also mentioned that patients need to “truly volunteer,” and have a say in how researchers will use their tissues. “This is what prevents humans from being reduced to a reserve of tissue, organs and body parts.”
Even postmortem donations are very challenging. If people are organ donors, they can donate their organs after death, but that doesn’t apply to the brain. “It’s really an onerous process,” Lein, another author, adds.
From a bioethical point of view, if such donation is made with the express consent and always with careful consideration of the risk-benefit of the surgical intervention, there are no bioethical concerns for performing this practice.