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Hundreds of individuals every year are diagnosed with devastating medical problems about which there is little understanding.  Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), autism spectrum disorder, Fragile X syndrome, and neurofibromatosis are just a few of the perplexing medical mysteries whose answers will only be found with continued and dedicated research.  For this reason, the University of Maryland Brain and Tissue Bank is funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development with the expressed goal of advancing meaningful research.  The Bank serves the critical purpose of collecting, preserving, and distributing human tissues to qualified scientific investigators dedicated to the improved understanding, care and treatment of genetic and developmental disorders.

In hundreds of labs, in every city, there are researchers who have dedicated their careers to finding a cure for everyone’s children, for every suffering adult.  Their dedication is great, their compassion strong, but their work cannot move forward without the help of many other caring individuals. Human tissue donated at the time of surgery or death by people of all ages, especially those afflicted with a genetic or developmental disorder, is the most precious resource on which these researchers depend.  It is in human tissues, particularly the brain, that dysfunctions occur and manifest themselves.  By examining these tissues, comparing the unaffected with the affected, or by comparing different age groups, sexes, etc., that scientists begin to unravel endless questions.  And, as answers unfold so will deeper understanding, offering hope to the lives of us all.

A Precious Resource

The University of Maryland Brain and Tissue Bank (hereafter referred to as UMB BTB) reaches out to individuals and organizations across the United States and Canada to encourage donor registration.  For some, this may be difficult to consider in light of the emotional stress that they have already undergone.  For others, this commitment may offer a sense of purpose.  It may offer comfort in knowing that the quest for knowledge and medical understanding will carry on.

The Donation

Human tissue donation is a very precious gift.  The decision to donate may raise both personal and practical questions.  In deciding, the following points are helpful to know.  The procedure to recover tissue at the time of death will not interfere with open casket viewing. Since donation is accepted by most religious organizations, traditional funeral services may be planned.  There is no financial burden placed on one’s family as a result of this decision, as the Brain and Tissue Bank covers extra expenses related to the recovery of tissue.  The focus of the Bank is understanding, treatment and cure for the many disorders that occur in the lives of individuals. Many of these disorders have their origins at birth and are manifested early in life, but many do not occur until late in life.  Anyone, regardless of age, is invited to donate.  All donor information remains anonymous, and anyone who registers holds the right to withdraw consent any time before tissue recovery.

How to Request a Registration Packet

The UMB BTB welcomes applications for registration from all interested individuals who reside in the USA or Canada. 

Step 1: REGISTER ONLINE (please use Microsoft Internet Explorer) at


If you have any questions about the registration process:

Phone: 1-800-847-1539 or 410-706-1755

Step 2: INFORM FAMILY MEMBERS AND PHYSICIAN of your decision to donate. This is extremely important since the next of kin must give final permission for tissue recovery, even if a donor has registered in advance.

Step 3:  COMPLETE ANATOMICAL GIFT ACT FORMS AND ACCESS TO MEDICAL RECORDS FORMS. You will receive these forms by mail together with additional materials after we receive your registration form. Please complete these forms and return them by mail to the Brain and Tissue Bank. We need to have the original of these forms with your signature. YOUR REGISTRATION IS NOT COMPLETE UNTIL WE RECEIVE THE SIGNED CONSENT FORMS.

The successful donation rests on swift and thorough communication between many professionals and family members. Although the Brain and Tissue Bank will make every effort to retrieve tissue in an emergency, if we have no advance notice, tissue recovery may be impossible.   You may call the Brain and Tissue Bank (see contact information on page 4) from anywhere in the continental United States to address any questions or concerns.

Tissue Recovery

The next of kin or other authorized individual must give the Brain and Tissue Bank final authority for tissue recovery.  They should call the Bank or the TS Alliance if surgery or death is imminent, or as soon as possible after they have been notified of the donor’s death.  Calls are taken 24 hours a day.  It is also imperative that medical and funeral personnel are aware of donor registration.  The Bank will respond with immediate and sensitive attention to make every attempt to insure successful tissue recovery.

What Tissues Are Needed?

Many different tissues from individuals with tuberous sclerosis complex are needed for ongoing research projects.  In particular, the following tissues would benefit the researchers at the present time:

  • Brain tissue – removed at the time of surgery for seizures (tubers) or at death
  • Brain tumor tissue – removed at the time of surgery
  • Skin – facial angiofibromas, shagreen patches, hypopigmented macules, forehead plaques, periungual fibromas (from around either fingernails or toenails), normal skin
  • Renal angiomyolipomas
  • Angiomyolipomas removed from other organs (liver, pancreas, lymph nodes, etc.)
  • Thyroid
  • Lung
  • Cardiac rhabdomyomas
  • Tumors in eyes
  • Blood samples for genetic research

How Much Tissue Is Needed?

Very small to very large pieces of tissue can be used in TSC research.  The important thing to remember is that the removal of tissue should never be done for the sole purpose of research and should never raise any risks for the health of the individual with TSC.  Similarly, it is important that the donor and next of kin realize that the tissue samples may be needed for pathological studies in order to determine what further medical treatment may be necessary. This need should never be compromised so that the tissue can be donated for research purposes.

What Are the Tissues Used For?

The researchers use the tissue samples in many different ways. Some use the tumor tissues to study the function of the TSC1 and TSC2 genes.  Neuropathologists use the brain tissue samples to learn more about the kinds of cells that are affected by TSC in the brain and to understand what cells are present or missing in brain tubers or in subependymal giant cell tumors seen in TSC. Still other researchers use the tissue samples from the brain to study the cause(s) of epilepsy in TSC.  The hope is that this research will one day lead to therapies designed to reverse or stop the growth of tumors or to treat epilepsy in individuals with TSC.

What Are Blood Samples Used For?

When blood samples are given in conjunction with a tissue sample, the blood samples may be used by the Brain and Tissue Bank to test for hepatitis, HIV or other agents that may be present in the blood.  This testing will never be performed without your consent, so be sure you understand the informed consent forms you will be asked to sign.  Any testing will be kept strictly confidential within the records of the Brain and Tissue Bank.  The tissue donor should understand that testing for these agents is not meant to invade your privacy, but that it is very important for the researchers to know if tissue samples have either hepatitis or HIV since it may drastically alter their ability to receive the tissue or how they handle tissue samples. Samples from individuals who test positive for HIV may be donated to the Brain and Tissue Bank, but they will not be distributed to researchers to ensure the safety of the researchers.

Why Donate to the Tissue Bank and Not to a Specific Researcher?

The primary reason to donate to the Brain and Tissue Bank and not directly to one researcher is that the Brain and Tissue Bank is funded by the National Institutes of Health to help coordinate storage and distribution of tissue samples for research on developmental disorders.  They have staff dedicated to this function and are prepared to assist in the coordination of the tissue donation, the preparation of the tissue samples, the storage of the tissue samples, and the distribution of the tissue samples in a fair and equitable manner to all qualified researchers who are interested in obtaining tissue samples for research purposes.  Most individual researchers do not have the resources or facilities to handle the storage of large amounts of tissue, or to prepare and ship the tissue samples to other investigators.  This was done in the past on a limited basis, but with research resources shrinking every day, it is crucial that the researchers can use their limited resources to focus on the research at hand and allow the Brain and Tissue Bank to serve them by coordinating the retrieval, storage and distribution of tissue samples. In addition, the tissue samples are of more benefit to individuals with TSC when they are contributed to the Brain and Tissue Bank because the tissue samples will be shared with several labs doing research on TSC. Everyone benefits from the tissue donation, and research will move forward more rapidly.

Thank You

Thank you for considering becoming a tissue donor.  Please do not hesitate to contact the Brain and Tissue Bank (see below) or the TS Alliance by calling 800-225-6872 if you have questions about any aspect of this program.

University of Maryland Brain and Tissue Bank
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Department of Pediatrics
655 W. Baltimore Street, 13-013 BRB
Baltimore, MD 21201-1559
Phone: 1-800-847-1539 or 410-706-1755
Fax: 410-706-2128

**This information sheet from the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance is intended to provide basic information about tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). It is not intended to, nor does it, constitute medical or other advice. Readers are warned not to take any action with regard to medical treatment without first consulting a health care provider. The TS Alliance does not promote or recommend any treatment, therapy, institution or health care plan.  (Updated February 2015.)

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