MS Research & Anatomical Donations

Have you ever wondered what is involved with making an anatomical donation to further multiple sclerosis research? This is a question that I came across in an online forum and thought it might be useful to talk about it here. There are many ways to make a donation once we no longer need our body here.

Organ donation

Most everyone is familiar with organ donation, where specific body parts may be designated for donation to a person in need of that same part. This could be major organs such as the skin for grafts or even the heart. Organ donors are special people and needed to help others stay alive. Registration for organ donation is usually done through your department of motor vehicles when you get your driver’s license or state-issued identification care.

Whole body donation

Anatomical donations of a whole body are commonly done to medical schools located at universities. A quick search of the internet for anatomical donations in my home state of Ohio turns up numerous medical colleges that accept donors. When I signed up for donation to my local university, I was able to complete the forms and return them by mail to their office. It was a really simple process.

Anatomical donations mean your entire body will be given and used for medical study and maybe research. Medical students will dissect your body, learn first hand about human anatomy, and practice their surgical and diagnostic skills. A lot of medicine cannot be learned just online or in a book and requires hands-on practice. Anatomical donations allow this and so much more. It’s important to note that you cannot usually be an organ donor and an anatomical donor. You have to pick one or the other because medical schools want a whole body. The exception for many anatomical donation programs is most will allow special brain and spinal tissue samples to be shared with other research sites.

MS-specific donation

Many of us with multiple sclerosis want an even more specific donation than the anatomical donation – we want our brain tissue and spinal cord to be used for MS research. This donation takes special steps to assure samples are usable in the labs. You can donate brain and spinal samples to a number of institutions across the country. Unlike anatomical donation where the whole body is studied, the MS collections use tissue samples and rarely is the entire brain or spinal column harvested for research.

The Rocky Mountain MS Center Tissue Bank is one of the oldest operating collection sites. You don’t have to live near this site or any of the others to make the donation. The tissues are preserved locally and then shipped to their facility. There are also brain tissue banks at Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, Johns Hopkins MS Center, and the National Institute of Health Neurobio Bank. There are many others which you can research via the internet.

Planning is critical

Brain and spinal tissue donation are often compatible with whole-body anatomical donation, so it is possible to do both, but those plans must be made with documentation. In return for your donation, the sites cover 100% of the costs to donate tissues. There should be no charge to any family for this important donation to science. Conversely, you will not be paid to donate. It is important to have all of your plans in writing and discuss your plans for your donation with your family. It is critical they agree and will follow the necessary steps when we are gone.

Being a donor is a very personal choice – I have made mine and I hope you will consider it as well.

Be well,


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