Information for Donors


COVID-19 Update

The Maritime Brain Tissue Bank (MBTB) is accepting brain donations during the COVID-19 pandemic. For donations being made from within Nova Scotia, please direct inquiries regarding autopsy, and subsequent donations to the MBTB, to the Nova Scotia Health Authority on-call neuropathologist and follow the procedure as outlined below. For donations outside of Nova Scotia, please direct inquires regarding autopsy to the Pathology Department at the closest regional hospital.

For a brain to be donated to the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank, an autopsy must be performed.  Autopsy is a medical issue and is performed at the hospital by a pathologist. This procedure can be limited to removal of the brain alone from the body. The main reason for autopsy is to establish the cause of dementia by asking a neuropathologist (a doctor who is trained in looking at brain tissues) to examine the brain. After an autopsy, the neuropathologist in charge of the case will make all necessary arrangements to have half of the brain forwarded to the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank. The neuropathologist MUST be aware that this donation has been requested. 

To donate a brain:

  • A request for autopsy must be made by the family and a consent for autopsy form signed, either at the time of death or, preferably, before. Consent for autopsy forms can be obtained through each Regional Health Authority. This request should be made to the treating physician (usually the family doctor, palliative care doctor or the attending physician at the hospital or nursing home).

  • Currently the autopsy consent form does not have a specific area in which to state that donation to the Brain Bank has been requested.  A hand written statement should be added indicating a donation is to be made to the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank.

  • The next of kin must then sign the completed form.

  • The signed consent form will be included with the patient’s chart.

  • At the time of death a physician must sign the Medical Certificate of Death. This is usually the family doctor, palliative care physician or the attending physician in a hospital or nursing home. If the death occurs at home a physician must be called to the home to sign the Medical Certificate of Death. The remains cannot be transported until this is done.

  • When there is a consent for autopsy and the remains must be transported, the physician (or family – but for emotional and support reasons it should be the physician or staff) should arrange for transportation. Within Nova Scotia,  D&D Removal* is available at either 865-6544 or 1-877-350-2639. D&D Removal is available from anywhere in the province. They are available 24/7 every day of the year. They will transport the remains to the nearest regional hospital for autopsy. Transportation costs may be covered by the Regional District Health Authority. However, if they do not, the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank is not able to reimburse these expenses.

* In some jurisdictions a local funeral home will transport the remains to the local regional hospital for autopsy.


Summary and Notes:

In a perfect world this should all run smoothly and the family will not have to do anything other than contact the doctor if the death occurs at home. In practice a few glitches can and do occur during the stressful period of time around death. The main steps, depending on the situation, are:

  • The autopsy consent form is signed by the next of kin.

  • The intent to make a donation to the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank is noted on the autopsy consent form. 

  • The doctor who signs the Medical Certificate of Death is made aware that an autopsy is to be performed so that the body can be transported, and,

  • The doctor or staff then calls D&D or the funeral home for transport of remains to hospital so that brain donation can proceed.

For more information call (902) 494-4130.


Note  – this procedure IS NOT the same one used for Human Body Donation to Dalhousie University, although it is possible to make donations of both body and brain to these separate departments.

If this is the intent, please contact Dalhousie University Department of Medical Neuroscience at 902-494-6850 for a copy of the procedure, or go to

Body donation is made first, and if the intent is to also make a donation to the Maritime Brain Tissue bank, this should be discussed with MBTB staff at 902-494-4130.



We encourage facilities to become familiar with both procedures prior to need.

Other FAQS

(A) Why brain donation?
(B) How is the brain tissue obtained?
Confidentiality of donations.

(D) When are results of the brain autopsy available?

(E) Will my family be able to find out the results of the autopsy?

(A) Why brain donation?
The chief reason for performing the autopsy is to confirm the diagnosis of dementia, but it is also important to have brain tissue for research. All the dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, are complex and they need to be better understood. Donations from individuals with dementia and those that are neurologically normal are equally important. Normal “control” tissues are necessary to discriminate between changes related to disease and to those associated with normal ageing. At Dalhousie University and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, scientists are engaged in research to understand Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, such as dementia that can follow a stroke. To confirm the diagnosis of dementia, only one half of the brain is necessary. Therefore, the other half can be donated to the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank for research. The decision to donate the second half of the brain tissue for research is made freely by individuals and/or their families.

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(B) How is the brain tissue obtained?

An autopsy is performed in the local hospital autopsy suite. An incision is made at the back of the head just behind and above the ears. The brain is removed and the incision is closed. The pathologists are sensitive to the appearance of the incision, and they take great care to minimize its visibility. Depending on the shape of the skull, the hairline and the skills of the mortician, there is a possibility that the incision may remain visible when the body is laid out for viewing.

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(C) Confidentiality of donations
After the brain is removed, the Pathology Department at the local hospital assigns it an identification number. The donated brains are received by The Maritime Brain Tissue Bank with the name of the patient and the number. The names are then safely locked away, and any identification of the brain or clinical information is done only through the numbers. Any reports or publications arising from research at the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank will not identify individual donors or their family members.

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(D) When are results of the brain autopsy available?
The brain autopsy requires that the tissue be fixed in a preservative for about one month. Following this procedure, sections are taken from the brain. These sections are stained for a variety of changes that may have occurred in the brain. Depending on the complexity of that particular brain, further stains may be required. This process takes a further two months. When the stains are complete, the neuropathologist prepares a final report that is sent to the referring physician, the family physician, and the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank if a brain donation was requested. At present, the average time to get the autopsy report is 8-10 months.

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(E) Will my family be able to find out the results of the autopsy?
There are two individuals the family may call for the results of a brain autopsy. The first person to call is the patient’s family doctor. The family doctor will receive the neuropathologist’s report and will help with the interpretation. Also, the consulting doctor who was caring for the patient at the time of death would also receive a copy of the report if they arranged for the autopsy at the request of family members. It is important to understand that the Maritime Brain Tissue Bank staff is not allowed to discuss the autopsy report with anyone, including family members.

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