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How to access brain tissue

The MRC’s UK Brain Banks Network supplies tissue samples to academic and industry researchers in the UK and internationally. All brain banks in the Network have approval to provide tissue samples to research projects and pilot studies. Approval is based on scientific merit and also takes into account ethical issues (if peer review and ethics approval has not already been obtained).

Researchers can search an online database that carries details of all the tissue samples available throughout the Network.

For broader queries regarding the Network, researchers can also contact the Director through the Network Coordinating Centre at, copied to

The MRC asks that all researchers using tissue obtained from the banks inform the bank that provided the tissue of any papers accepted for publication. You will be contacted annually for an update of your publications. This helps us to publicise the success of the banks and secure future funding.

Dr Vicki Robinson Chief Executive NC3Rs (National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research)
‘The use of human brain tissues for basic and applied research represents an excellent opportunity to reduce the use of some animal models as well as providing information that is likely to be more predictive of what happens in the human brain, rather than that of the rat or mouse. It can be difficult to access primary human material and the UK Brain Bank Network is an important step to overcoming the barriers to the wider use of human tissue.’

Professor Jonathan Mill,  Professor of Epigenetics (University of Exeter)
‘The UK Brain Bank Network has been invaluable for our studies looking at molecular variation in the brain associated with neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disease. We've been able to access tissue from well-phenotypes samples and extract high quality DNA and RNA for our epigenetic and transcriptomic analyses.’

Professor Sadaf Farooqi, Professor of Metabolism and Medicine (MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the University of Cambridge)
‘It is well known that disruption of a number of genes that are expressed in the brain can lead to obesity. Although there is a substantial amount of new information emerging from genetic studies and work in animal models, this work would be greatly supported by access to human brain tissue.’

Frequently asked questions

How do I find out what type of tissue is available from each of the brain banks?

The UK Brain Banks Network database carries details of all the tissue samples available throughout the Network. Researchers are required to register with the database and to obtain a user login in order to search for tissue samples.

Do I need to have ethics approval for my project before I can apply for tissue samples from a brain bank?

In most cases, the answer is no. All of the brain banks in the Network have generic ethics committee approval to function as research tissue banks, which means that they can provide tissue samples to UK-based researchers for a broad range of studies without the need for the researchers to obtain their own ethics approval.

The UK legislation covering generic ethics committee approval of research tissue banks does not, however, cover research outside of the UK, for which separate ethical approval is generally needed. In addition, the scope of generic ethics committee approval to the individual brain banks may not cover all types of research for which tissue is requested.

How do I log in to the Brain Banks Network database to access tissue samples?

All potential users of the database must register to use the system by completing a registration request form using the database’s web interface.

You will be asked to provide:

  • your email address (used to create a username if registration is approved)
  • reason for application
  • information on your place of work
  • the workplace email address of your ‘systems administrator’, line manager or Head of Department. This assists the Network’s registration Approval Group in determining the suitability of the applicant to access the database.

The submitted registration request is circulated to an Assessment Team and, if successful, a new account is created and username and password details are emailed to you. You can then log in and access the searchable database.

Once I’m logged in, how do I search for tissue samples?

The database also allows users to search for cases/tissue by applying a range of search criteria. You can search for cases based on disease/diagnosis/cause of death, find control cases, age range, gender, brain pH range, post-mortem delay and the type of tissue (CNS, muscle, fixed, frozen, etc.).

Users can also browse through all of the cases submitted to the database by an individual brain bank if they wish to access tissue from that particular bank.

Can I save the results of my searches?

Yes. The My Collection button acts in a similar manner to an online shopping cart, where users can save cases of interest.

How do I contact a brain bank in order to acquire tissue for my research?

You can contact brain banks about any of the samples stored in the database. This can be done on a case-by-case basis or a user can contact all the brain banks containing the cases stored in a user’s My Collection saved search.

When you contact a brain bank through the network database, an email is sent to the relevant brain bank manager. The email contains your contact details, your message and the details of the cases in the user’s collection held by that brain bank. The brain bank’s manager can answer questions and help with the process of application for tissue samples.

How can I find out if there is additional information, for example cohort data associated with the tissue sample available?

When a tissue request is made, the custodian brain bank will be contacted and speculative requests can be made for additional data.  You can email the brain banks holding the tissue samples in which you are interested by using the My Collection of cases through the database.

If you find out that tissue is from a cohort participant, you may be able to request additional information from investigators running the study.  Information on current UK cohort studies can be found in the MRC’s cohort directory.

Can I see which brain banks I have previously contacted and what messages I have sent to them?

Yes. All messages sent to brain banks by a user are recorded by the system. This allows users to keep track of what cases/tissue they have requested and the brain banks they contacted.

Approved documentation for brain banks

These documents have been approved by the Brain Banks Network Management Group to serve as a helpful source of information and instruction. Any queries or comments should be directed either through the MRC, via Dr Talisia Quallo, or through the Network’s Director, Professor Seth Love.