South West Dementia Brain Bank

Our mission

To support dementia research that has the potential to contribute to our understanding of the underlying diseases or to be of value to those affected and their families. 

  • Management
  • Organisation
  • Composition
  • Collaboration
  • Donors
  • JustGiving Page
  • Cost Recovery
  • Testimonials from donors and their families 

How the SWDBB resource is managed

The South West Dementia Brain Bank (SWDBB) laboratory is housed within the Learning & Research Building at Southmead Hospital. The SWDBB, has previously received financial support from BRACEAlzheimer’s Research UK, the North Bristol NHS Trust Research and Innovation Department and DeNDRoN and is currently supported by BRACE and by Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society through Brains for Dementia Research.

The SWDBB is under the directorship of Professor Patrick Kehoe and Dr Liz Coulthard, and is licensed to operate as research tissue bank by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). SWDBB has approval from South West - Central Bristol Research Ethics Committee to operate as a research tissue bank.

The day-to-day running and co-ordination of the SWDBB are overseen by a Local Management Group comprising the SWDBB director(s), senior researchers from the Dementia Research Group, an independent member of the University Research Governance Team, and the SWDBB Manager. The Local Management Group reports to the SWDBB Research Governance Committee, which oversees broader strategic and research governance issues for the SWDBB. The SWDBB also reports to the University of Bristol Human Tissue Working Group.

How the SWDBB is organised

The SWDBB opened for the receipt brain donations for dementia research in the mid 1980s. SWDBB still accepts donations but in 2010 became one of the recruitment centres and member brain banks in the ABBUK-funded Brains for Dementia Research (BDR) Network project. Going forward, all future and potential donors will be encouraged to register for donation to SWDBB under the auspices of the BDR project, which involves prospective donors undertaking a number of assessments from the time they register until the time of their donation. This process will provide a very rich amount of information on which to base future diagnosis but also for information that will be of great importance in informing future research studies.

What does the bank contain?

The SWDBB holds brain tissue from over 1000 subjects who donated their brains in strict accordance with ethically approved procedures. Each donation has been examined by a neuropathologist and given a final diagnosis according to international guidelines.

Frozen and formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue and DNA are available from most of the brains, as is a considerable amount of other information that has been systematically collected in relation to Aβ and tau pathology, cerebral amyloid angiopathy severity, RNA integrity and pH. For a subset of SWDBB donated brains we also have samples of post-mortem ventricular cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

For much of the archive, we still retain a substantial volume of original medical notes although in the future, all brains collected using the BDR protocol will have more detailed, prospectively collected, cognitive assessment data.

The SWDBB is part of the MRC UK Brain Banks Network. For further information about samples available from the SWDBB and across the network, please register as a user of the MRC database of tissue samples.

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The Dementia Research Group has a strong tradition of collaboration as demonstrated by publications of its joint leads Professor Patrick Kehoe and Dr Liz Coulthard. The group and continues to welcome new collaborations.

SWDBB tissue can be made available, subject to appropriate application and subsequent approval by the SWDBB Local Management Committee. Tissue can be made available to applicants from the SWDBB archive or those collected under BDR protocols. Potential applicants are advised to make informal enquires to the SWDBB manager to discuss the likely availability of tissue that might be requested and in turn the most appropriate way to apply.

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To donate to the South West Dementia Brain Bank and Dementia Research Group please go to our JustGiving Page

The Aim

The aim of the SWDBB is to provide researchers with access to high quality brain tissue to further our understanding of dementia. The tissue is obtained with full consent from potential donors or their families.

Almost all major advances in our understanding and treatment of dementia have been based on research on human brain tissue. Yet despite much progress, the precise causes of nerve cell damage in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias remain poorly understood. Existing treatments reduce symptoms for a period of time but do not stop progression of the disease. We have an urgent need for more research into dementia, and comparison of brain tissue from people who have had dementia with that from people who have not is a crucial way for us to find out why different types of dementia occur, how they differ and how they progress. Our work allows the SWDBB to provide suitable samples of brain tissue to as many people as possible who are in a position to contribute to dementia research.

What is not well known is that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias cannot usually be confirmed without examination of the brain after death. It is common for this examination to show that the actual illness responsible for the dementia was different from that diagnosed during life. Establishing the accurate diagnosis is critical to progress in research and treatment. Finding out the final, confirmed diagnosis is also often important to the relatives of the donor, helping families to obtain closure after the death of a loved one. Establishing an accurate diagnosis is therefore not only the foundation of all of the research activities of the Brain Bank but also a key part of the service we provide to the donor’s family and to healthcare professionals who were involved in the donor's care.

The Problem

There are an estimated 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today and by 2025 the number is expected to rise to over one million.

The South West Dementia Brain Bank (SWDBB) is part of the University of Bristol. It is housed within the Learning & Research building at Southmead Hospital and opened for the receipt of brain donations for dementia research in 1984. It is a resource for the banking of brain tissue kindly donated by people to aid research that concerns the causes or other aspects of dementia and that has the potential to be of benefit to dementia patients and their families. The donations are either from patients who have developed dementia or from people aged 65 years or more who have not had memory problems. The availability of this donated tissue is essential for dementia research.


The SWDBB and Dementia Research Group relies on charitable funds and academic grants to support the costs of SWDBB staff, researchers, tissue storage, consumables, tissue preparation and transport.

Donations to support the SWDBB and Dementia Research Group are greatly appreciated and can be made through JustGiving or through the University of Bristol website.

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

Alternatively, if you would prefer to make a donation by cheque please make your cheque payable to 'University of Bristol' and send to Dr Laura Palmer, Brain Bank Manager, South West Dementia Brain Bank, University of Bristol, Learning & Research Level 1, Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB.

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Testimonials from donors and their families

Two people in a freezer room, smiling for the camera. Remembering Not to Forget

On 23rd August 2017, co-founder of Remembering Not to Forget Ali Turnbull visited the South West Dementia Brain Bank. Here she describes her visit.



SWDBB co-directors: Professor Patrick Kehoe and Dr Liz Coulthard

SWDBB manager: Dr Laura Palmer



I am a huge supporter of research into Alzheimer’s and other dementias after seeing firsthand the effect it has on people and their families. Deciding to be a brain donor can be an emotional decision, but if my brain can contribute even a small amount to improving our understanding of dementia then it will have been hugely worthwhile. Brain tissue is vital for progress to be made in understanding the devastating diseases that cause dementia and I am happy to be doing my bit to help.

Chester Guttridge, 93, from Bristol

Susan Jonas helped to donate her aunt’s brain to medical research in 2013, an experience that inspired her to sign up to donate her own brain after her death. Here she explains the process around donating her aunt’s brain, and why she believes contributing to brain research in this way is so important.

"Why I’m donating my brain to science"

My husband Mike and I 'signed up' after I heard about Brains for Dementia Research at a Carers' meeting. The research nurses came to see us and we had a really 'fun' time with them. They were actually going through a procedure to access our mental ability but made the process so pleasant that Mike was very much at ease. We saw the nurses again around 1 year later and again went through the process, which was very calm and gentle. When Mike passed away at Hospiscare in May 2015, everything was handled with such professionalism and kindness. I was made to feel in complete control of the situation. With immense sensitivity I was reminded what was going to happen in order for the donation to go ahead, and it did. I cannot praise the team enough; everything that they promised would happen did, with no problems at all. Subsequently, I received a report from the Brain Bank as to what they had found in Mike's brain.


...In life he had been diagnosed as having corticobasal degeneration but they discovered that he actually had Alzheimer's disease which was a surprise to me. It seems that the symptoms of these two diseases can sometimes be very similar. The Professor at the Medical School that diagnosed Mike has obtained the report from the Brain Bank and is going to use Mike's case for teaching purposes which is just one of the enormous benefits of brain donation. I can only say that I feel very strongly about the benefit of brain donation so don't have any qualms about what will happen, just think of the good that you'll be doing for future medicine.

Mrs Terri Channon, from Exmouth
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