In life, Nikki Mitchell gave of herself to those in need. She wanted to continue that giving spirit after death with the selfless act of donating to the Rapid Autopsy Program with Johns Hopkins.  

A unique program in which patients who lose their battle with cancer volunteer to have a rapid autopsy so that investigators can study their tumors, cells, and genes to find answers that may save the lives of future patients. This Research Program helps decipher how pancreas cancer originates and spreads as well as identifies potential new ways to treat the disease.

Specifically they were looking for floating tumor cells and in the past, were able to harvest just one or two cells in the donations.  With Nikki’s donation, it was the first time they were able to harvest multiple cells.  The data collected with Nikki’s donation was impactful.


The Rapid Autopsy program arranges and performs autopsies on an urgent basis to collect tumor and other tissues for researchers in many different areas. Specimens collected at autopsy have been used to grow living cell lines which can be used to evaluate for genetic mutations and test new chemotherapies. Samples can also undergo genetic sequencing and RNA expression analysis, as well as immunohistochemical and proteomic studies.


Rapid autopsies provide completely unique research opportunities. Tumor samples can be taken for

  •  cancers have spread aggressively locally
  •  developed resistance to treatment, and/or
  •  spread throughout the body

Multiple body sites can be sampled in large quantities and new sites of tumor spread can be found that were not detected during life and these areas can also be sampled for research.

Arrangements can be made to transport patients who pass away in hospice care or at home to the hospital by a funeral service at no cost to the family. Researchers also pay the cost of performance of the autopsy itself.

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