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7 questions you might be afraid to ask the Tissue Bank

Hannah Boam

Did you know you can donate your brain and spinal cord to MS research? It’s vital to efforts to find new effective treatments. We asked Ville Pitkaaho, a Research Nurse at the MS Society Tissue Bank some questions about tissue donation so you don’t have to.

1. What will happen to my tissue after I die?

After your death, we’ll need to collect your tissue within 48 hours. We operate across the UK, from Jersey to Scotland, which can be challenging. But we only get one chance to collect your tissue so we won’t give up easily.

An undertaker will take your body to the nearest hospital, where your tissue will be respectfully removed by one of my colleagues in the mortuary. The rest of your body will be returned for your funeral.

Back at the Tissue Bank, your donation will be carefully turned into 250 individual samples and frozen at -83°C.

2. Will my family need to do anything?

A family member, friend, or caregiver need to notify us of your death as soon as possible, or even shortly before.

I’m usually one of the first people a family member or friend will speak to after the death. I know this is a very difficult time for them. But when the donation can go ahead they are relieved something good is coming from the death of a loved one.

We make it as easy as possible for the relatives by taking care of the whole donation process ourselves. We speak to the family about any questions or concerns, and keep them updated throughout.

We know how important it is to our donors, so it’s a rewarding feeling for us to fulfil someone’s last wishes.

3. Will my body look different?

No, there will only be a small surgical wound at the back of your head. So if we need to take a donation before you have an open casket, or if family members want to view your body, they wouldn’t notice.

4. Do you take into account cultural or religious requests?

Of course! We’re always happy to discuss cultural or religious needs. For example, if your body needs to be buried very quickly after death, we do our best to make this possible.

It’s quite amazing to hold something as precious as a human brain in your hands. We always take into account the donors wishes, and treat donations with huge respect.

5. Could my family and friends donate too?

Yes, we need more donors who don’t have MS. It’s really important for researchers to compare people with and without MS to work out what’s gone wrong.

6. Can I still donate my other organs?

Yes you can be both an organ donor and Tissue Bank donor - you just need to carry two donor cards instead of one.

We often get asked if people can donate their whole body to MS research, but that’s not something we’re able to do.

7. What will you do with my tissue?

Your tissue will be used to generate new research which may help towards finding what causes MS or lead to development of new treatments.

We preserve and store the samples in a way that we can use them for years to come. We still have tissue from the 90’s that’s absolutely fine.

We’re proud that we’re highly regarded by researchers around the world. Your tissue could end up helping international MS research across the globe!

Find out more about tissue donation and sign up on the Tissue Bank website