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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Human "Brain Bank" Tissue for Alcohol Research

To facilitate alcohol-related research, NIAAA is currently supporting the collection of autopsied human brain tissue from individuals with alcohol use disorder and from controls for distribution to qualified alcohol research investigators. Tissue collection and distribution is provided by the Brain Tissue Resource Center (BTRC), University of Sydney, Australia. The goal of the "brain bank" is to provide human brain tissue for the study of the neuropathology, neurobiology and neurogenetics of chronic alcohol consumption.


About the BTRC

The Brain Tissue Resource Center (BTRC) is located in the Discipline of Pathology, University of Sydney, Australia, and is under the direction of Associate Professor Greg Sutherland. The purpose of the BTRC is to collect, characterize and distribute post-mortem human brain tissue to be used by neuroscience researchers for the study of alcohol-related brain disorders1.

To facilitate the collection of human brain tissue by the BTRC, a prospective brain donor program, Using Our Brains, has been established. Through this voluntary program, participants agree to donate their brain to the TRC following their death. Potential donors also undergo annual medical and lifestyle evaluations. This enables the TRC to obtain more accurate and detailed descriptions of the medical histories of the brain tissue collected. Visit the Using Our Brains donor program website for additional information.


Human Tissue for Research

Australian researchers have worked with a substantial population of individuals affected by alcohol use disorder who do not also abuse other drugs, constituting a unique resource for investigators studying alcohol's long term effects on the brain. Since 1985, the BTRC at the University of Sydney has been developing a "brain bank," for which the Center is collecting human brain tissue at autopsy from alcohol-related, malnourished and control cases having confirmed clinical and pathological diagnoses. Diagnoses are confirmed by physician interviews, review of hospital medical records, questionnaires to next-of-kin, and from pathology, radiology and neuropsychology reports.

Investigators interested in alcohol research may submit a request for tissue to the BTRC. Brain tissue may be obtained as either fresh-frozen or formalin-fixed samples.

  • Fresh-frozen tissue - At autopsy, one hemisphere is cut into ~10 mm coronal slices and regions of interested dissected; prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, caudate putamen, rostral and caudal thalamus, basal forebrain, hippocampus, amygdala, primary visual cortex, cerebellum, midbrain, pons and medulla. All tissue is then frozen and stored at -80 oC.
  • Formalin-fixed tissue – The contralateral hemisphere is fixed in 15% buffered formalin, embedded in agar, and sliced coronally at 3 mm intervals. Blocks of fixed brain tissue are prepared from superior frontal cortex, cingulate gyrus, parietal cortex, temporal cortex, occipital cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus, basal ganglia, mamillary body, pons, medulla, cerebellum (lateral) and cerebellum (vermis). These are embedded in paraffin. All cortical blocks contain substantial amounts of white matter. The remaining tissue is stored in buffered formalin.

Further descriptions of the tissue available to investigators include the age, sex, post-mortem delay, pH of tissue and disease classification. Questions and inquiries concerning the BTRC and the availability of brain tissue may be directed through the BTRC website at


Requests for Human Tissue

Requests for brain samples should be directed to the BTRC Manager:

Julia Stevens  

+61 2 8627 1668  


To receive tissue, investigators must have IRB or ethics approval for the use of human tissue as required by their parent institution. All tissue requests received by the BTRC are reviewed independently by an external Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB makes the final recommendation to NIAAA and the BTRC for the distribution of tissue.


Following the SAB recommendation and completion of the Material Transfer Agreement, the BTRC will supply to the investigator the requested tissue and appropriate documentation stripped of all personal identifiers. The Principal Investigator and Research Institution will be responsible for costs incurred for processing the samples e.g. consumables, shipping and compliance with U. S. Customs regulations for the importation of human tissue from foreign countries.


Brain tissue that is received from the BTRC is for the exclusive use of the Principal Investigator, and cannot be redistributed to other researchers without authorization from the BTRC. All material remains the property of the BTRC, and any remaining material must be returned on request. All unused tissue must be returned to the BTRC on completion of the research project.


The BTRC requires that the Principal Investigator provide an annual report of all presentations, disclosures, and publications arising from the use of the materials. The Principal Investigator also agrees to acknowledge the contribution of the Brain Tissue Resource Center (BTRC), and the support of the NIH Grant R28 AA12725 (NIAAA) and other funding agencies in all oral and written presentations, disclosures, and publications resulting from the use of the brain tissue.



1. Sheedy, D., Garrick, T., et al. 2008. An Australian brain bank: a critical investment with a high return! Cell Tissue Bank, 9, 205-16.

2. Sutherland, G.,Sheedy, D., et al 2016. The NSW Brain Tissue Resource Centre: Banking for alcohol and major neuropsychiatric disorders research. Alcohol, 52, 33-39.


NIAAA Coordinators

Hemin Chin, Ph.D.
Program Officer, Division of Neuroscience and Behavior


Antonio Noronha, Ph.D.
Director, Division of Neurosciences and Behavior


NIAAA Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) Members

Tatiana Foroud, Ph.D.
P. Michael Conneally Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics
Chancellor's Professor
Director of Hereditary Genomics Division
Indiana University School of Medicine
Indianapolis, IN


Fulton T. Crews, Ph.D.
Professor and Director
Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599


R. Adron Harris, Ph.D.
Professor and Director
Waggoner Center for Alcohol & Addiction Research
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78713


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