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Brain Donation & Bioethics

An interactive and reflective lesson for high school or undergraduate students on brain donation, bioethics, and their role in neuroscience research.

hand drawn sketch of a human brain with text that says "would you donate your brain to science?" by Maddy Meuler/ Allen InstituteAbout this resource:

Ever wonder how scientists study the human brain? To learn more about the processes of living and post-mortem brain donation and the role of bioethics in scientific research, check out our lesson plan featured below! 

Audience level: high school or first/second year undergraduate  

Mode of instruction: suitable for remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction  

Estimated lesson timeline: 55 minutes total + 20 minute optional debate activity  

Prior knowledge needed: This lesson does not require a background in biology in order to complete it. This lesson is suitable for students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds including philosophy, psychology, science and technology studies, and any of the life sciences. 

Learning Objectives:  

  • Students will reflect on the importance of bioethics within biomedical research 
  • Students will describe the process of both living and post-mortem brain donation, and how these types of donations provide different biological data  
  • Students will appreciate and be able to articulate why some people may choose to not donate their brain to science  
  • Students will articulate the importance of neurodiversity within brain science 
  • Students will reflect on the ethical implications of policies of expressed vs. presumed consent  
  • Students will articulate the importance of consent within biomedical research 

Note: This lesson plan is also the first of a four-part lesson featured on our Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease page

Lesson materials:

Check out the Instructor Guide  

Check out the Student Worksheet  

Scientist holding human brain that was donated to science

So you want to donate your brain to science

7 min read | by Leila Okahata/Allen Institute
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Windy Ho (right) and Michael Clark (center) prepare a living piece of human brain, removed during surgery and donated by the patient to science, for experiments at the Allen Institute. Brian Lee, Ph.D. (left), a scientist in the electrophysiology lab at the Allen Institute, looks on in the background. Photo by Erik Dinnel / Allen Institute

This is what it’s like to donate your brain to science

10 min read | by Rachel Tompa/Allen Institute
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Science Programs at Allen Institute