OHSU

Autopsy

The Oregon Brain Bank (OBB) program was established in 1990 with the assistance of the Alzheimer Research Alliance of Oregon and the National Institute on Aging-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Center at OHSU to gather autopsy related information.

The purpose is to study the brains of individuals with dementing illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease and to provide tissue for research with the hope of understanding and eventually curing these diseases. The brain examination provides a pathological diagnosis, and the results are made available to the family and the referring physician(s).

Why is Autopsy Important?

An autopsy is a clinical examination that is performed after death to help determine the diagnoses and progress of a disease.  In 1906, Aloysius "Alois" Alzheimer, was the first physician to diagnose the disease that came to be named after him, Alzheimer’s disease.  It was through an autopsy that he performed on one of his patients that he was able to identify the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are typical of the disease. Autopsy continues to be a very important diagnostic and research tool.

What is a brain autopsy? It is the examination of the brain tissue after death. The brain is preserved and small samples are examined under a microscope by a neuropathologist to determine the disease process. It remains the only means of confirming the specific diagnosis of a dementing illness. Brain autopsies provide a valuable resource for research into the cause of the devastating illnesses that strike the brain, as well as a source of normal brain tissue from “control” subjects who did not have dementia.

What is the cost? Patients enrolled in special research protocols at OHSU receive this service at no cost.

Why is a brain autopsy important? A family may wish to find out the precise cause of their family member’s dementia, and the only definitive way in which this can currently be accomplished is through microscopic examination of brain tissue.  In addition, the study of autopsy tissue by researchers is vital to studies aimed at answering questions about what causes dementia, how to prevent it and how to cure it.

How does brain autopsy help researchers? Since its inception, over 1800 cases have been accessioned and tissue has been retained in a variety of forms (frozen and preserved by other means) for research use. Tissue is available from subjects with Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, other diseases, and control cases. Approximately 100 new cases of demented and aged control subjects are added to the Brain Bank each year.

How do research scientists use this resource? Project descriptions and requests for tissue are submitted to the staff of the Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center, who will help determine what materials available are best suited to the needs of specific researchers. Learn more