Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Department of Neuropathology

Our Brain & Tissue Banks

The brain is still one of the most complex and least understood organs of the human body. Many diseases of the central nervous system can give some insight into how the brain works by seeing what these diseases do to the person with the disease, and how the disease affects the normal structure and function of the brain. Imaging techniques such as Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT) scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, while useful, do not have the resolution necessary to study cellular and subcellular structures, or allow the studies of the many different proteins, DNA or RNA aspects that may contribute to the disease.

Only through the donation and collection of human brain tissues after death, or during neurosurgical procedures can the histological and molecular studies be undertaken that will allow a better understanding of the human brain in both health and disease.

The RPA Neuropathology Department is closely involved in two biobanks:

1. Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia (MSRA) Brain Bank
2. Neuropathology Tumour and Tissue Bank.

1. Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia (MSRA) Brain Bank

The MS Research Australia Brain Bank works in conjunction with the Australian Brain Bank Network to collect donated brain and spinal cord tissues from people with multiple sclerosis (MS) for use in research. Individuals with a clinical diagnosis of a demyelinating disease, such as multiple sclerosis can register with the MSRA Brain Bank to donate their brain and spinal cord for use in research after their death. We provide neuropathology expertise and laboratory leadership to assist the MS Research Australia Brain Bank in tissue characterisation of MS cases. More information on the MS Research Australia Brain Bank and registration details can be found here.

2. Neuropathology Tumour and Tissue Bank

People identified as having a brain tumour often have surgery to remove the tumour or biopsy it for correct diagnosis. The RPA Neuropathology Department seeks permission from individuals undergoing neurosurgery to donate their excess tissue not required for diagnostic purposes, in order to provide insight into the biology of the brain tumours and other brain diseases. There are many different types of brain tumour, and each has their own peculiar features. Only through research into the many types of brain tumour can the general and specific mechanisms of tumour development be determined. This information can also contribute to the development of the most effective forms of treatment for the specific tumour types.

On occasion we also accept whole brain donations from patients dying with brain tumours. This is organised on a case by case basis. We hope to expand this service in the future as additional funds become available.

Specimen Collection
Specimens donated are prepared in different ways to allow tissue to be available as new research methodologies are developed. It was not too long ago that most donated tissues were fully fixed in formalin and all diagnostic criteria were developed from these sources. More recently, techniques have been developed into studies of DNA, RNA and protein which require the use of frozen tissues. Tissues collected today are prepared and kept in several different ways and are kept indefinitely to allow tissues to be used many years into the future, with the ultimate aim of making these diseases a “thing of the past”. 


3. The Australian Sports Brain Bank

The Australian Sports Brain Bank (ASBB) is a partnership between Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre and the Concussion Legacy Foundation Global Brain Bank.

Australians who have played sports at all levels are encouraged to sign up and donate their brain so researchers can better understand links between head impacts in sports and diseases like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated blows to the head, including concussions.

CTE has been linked to exposure to head impacts in sports like boxing and American football.

Australian Brain Bank researchers will generate a full neuropathology report on donated brains and results will be sent to the donor’s nominated doctor. Brain tissue will be stored and made available to researchers for many years to come.

The Australian Sports Brain Bank. is headed by RPA Head of Neuropathology Professor Michael Buckland and located at the Brain and Mind Centre.