Douglas – Bell Canada Brain Bank Platform

brain bank

(Click the banner image to visit the Douglas Bell Canada Brain Bank website)

The Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank (DBCBB), based at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute (McGill University affiliate), has become one of the most important brain banks in the world. Founded in 1980, it currently houses and manages over 3,000 brains, as well as a large relational database containing demographic, clinical and developmental histories from the donors. The DBCBB is one of the rare brain banks in North America to collect brains from people who suffered from different neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias, as well as diverse mental disorders, including schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders, obtained from individuals who did or did not die by suicide.

The DBCBB is internationally recognized, and thus receives tissue requests from a large number of neuroscientists from Canada and abroad. Requests for tissues come from leading international laboratories focusing on neurobiological processes as diverse as the normal expression of brain genes, histological changes associated with brain aneurysms, epigenetics processes associated with chronic cocaine use, and the neurobiological consequences of early-life adversity, to name just a few. Samples obtained from the DBCBB have been essential to several scientific breakthroughs reported in studies published in high-impact journals such as Nature, Nature Medicine and Nature Neuroscience, among others. 


Through a long-standing collaboration with the Québec Coroner’s Office, the BB has access to brain from individuals who died by suicide and from controls who died suddenly by other causes such as work-related accidents, myocardial infarction, etc., and were not subject to medical intervention.

All tissue is collected following next-of-kin consent. Subsequently, families are contacted on average at 4 months following the death to begin a series of interviews, which are known as psychological autopsies. These interviews provide reliable and valid information on development and psychiatric diagnoses, which are obtained by means of structured interviews that last 8 hours on average and are conducted with 2 different informants. These interviews, together with medical files, toxicology and other related sources of information provide invaluable information that makes the brain tissue unique to the investigation of mechanisms involved in mental disorders and suicide.

In recent years, the Brain Bank has provided well-characterized brain samples to local, national and international mental health researchers and neuroscientists. For instance, over the last five years, an average of 1,000  brain samples were distributed on an annual basis to the scientific community. These figures clearly illustrate the Brain Bank’s importance in research on suicide and other psychiatric disorders for which human brain tissue is difficult to obtain.

Recognizing its unique nature and impact on mental health research, the FRQS has been providing the Brain Bank with funds to support its basic operation for many years. In 2012, we were able to obtain a major corporate donation from Bell Canada to upgrade the physical infrastructure where the BB is housed. More recently, FRQS support was instrumental in obtaining another major grant from the Québec government, through the Ministère du Développement Économique, de l'Innovation et de l'Exportation, to provide the Brain Bank with state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure to process, store and prepare brain samples. Our Réseau is proud of this unique resource.

In managing the Brain Bank platform, the Réseau prioritize requests focusing on suicide research, on mood disorder and its interaction with substance disorders. All researchers interested in Brain Bank tissues need to sign formal agreements of material transfer and provide a series of documents including a copy of written approval of their project by their local scientific/ethics committee, as requested by the Ethics Review Board that oversees the banking activities of the Brain Bank. 

View a video about the Brain Bank on the La Presse website (in French)

Visit the Douglas Bell Canada Brain Bank website for more information.