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University of Southern California Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) Brain Research Program

What is the main objective of this study?

The main objective of this study is to learn more about aging and dementing conditions through autopsy and provide a definitive diagnosis. Those enrolled after signing a consent will have a yearly visit for neuro-cognitive testing and a review of function and medication changes. Call 323-442-7600 for information.

What is the ADRC?

The University of Southern California – Alzheimer Disease Research Center (USC-ADRC), under the direction of Helena Chui, M.D., is conducting several studies on Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia. The ADRC Brain Research Program is under the direction of Carol Miller, M.D., neuropathologist, and has been in effect since 1984. It is considered to be one of the finest and most professional programs of its kind in the country.

What is an autopsy?

The autopsy is a systematic and detailed examination of the body and its organs after death. It includes a careful examination of tissues and cells under the microscope. An autopsy provides important information about normal aging, as well as many pathological conditions such as atherosclerosis, infections, tumors, inflammation, strokes, heart attacks. Complete autopsies often provide clues and evidence regarding the cause of death. The USC ADRC Brain Research Program, however, does not include a complete autopsy but focuses mainly on the brain and a few other selected body tissues.

What is a Limited Brain Autopsy?

The limited brain autopsy may include the brain and other body tissues, including the spinal cord, eyes and samples of other internal organs (e.g., muscle, heart, lungs and liver). We examine these tissues because some of the changes associated with Alzheimer disease, cerebrovascular disease, and other related dementia also affect tissues other than the brain itself.

Why Brain Tissue Donation is Essential?

To understand the causes of dementia, it is also essential to compare individuals who are demented to individuals who are aging successfully and who do not have dementia.
The symptoms of patients with Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia are not identical, and changes in the brain tissue seen under the microscope vary from case to case. Comparison of the patient’s symptoms with the changes in the brain tissue can lead researchers to a better understanding of memory loss and other problems experienced by patients with Alzheimer disease. Comparison with individuals with normal aging who do not have symptoms of dementia helps to identify the earliest changes associated with Alzheimer disease and other dementing conditions.
Furthermore, examination of the brain at the time of death is the most certain way to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia. This information can help bring closure to the patient’s family. Not only will it benefit countless others in the future, it can also help identify genetic and other risk factors that can be of potential use in the health care and early diagnosis of surviving relatives.

The Neuropathology Report

When the examination and all tests are completed, the pathologist (the doctor who performs the autopsy) prepares a written report which gives all of these findings. This report includes a summary of the person’s medical history, the disease(s) found, and the cause of death. Approximately after six months after the autopsy is completed, a neuropathology summary report will be sent to your family, and to your primary care physician, if requested.

Does an autopsy affect funeral arrangements?

The performance of an autopsy will not in any way prevent or complicate a funeral. There is no distortion of the individual’s appearance and will not affect the viewing of the body after an autopsy is performed by a pathologist. Funeral directors and pathologists have been working together for many years so that the body, if you choose, can be embalmed, and prepared for the ceremony.

Will the brain autopsy cost the family anything?

There is no charge for the procedures, state-of-the-art neuropathology report or the consultation with the family. We will pay for transportation to pick-up the body at the time of death and bring it to USC. After the autopsy, we will call the mortuary, previously contracted by the family, to come to USC to transport the deceased to the mortuary.
If you are interested in becoming a participant in this very important brain research study, please contact USC Brain Research Study at 323-442-7600.