The Importance of Brain Banks for Neurological Research

Would you consider donating your brain for science?

A few years ago, Diana Barnwell wrote an article, entitled, My Last Gift.  She chronicled her decision to donate her brain … and the complicated issues that arose when making her decision. 

Studying actual human brains – donated by individuals upon their death, as a contribution to science – is a vital way to understanding neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.  After all, the brain is the only mysterious organ that we can’t study during a person’s lifetime.

This is why it was so devastating to scientists around the world, particularly those at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, when the institutions’ brain bank suffered a freezer dysfunction last week.  The institution lost 150 brains that had been donated for research.

They say this constitutes one-third of the world’s largest collection of autism brain samples.  The brain bank also housed brains designated for Parkinson’s research.

How does brain donation work?  It varies at institutions around the country – from their requirements for donating to whom they consider eligible.  For instance, some institutions require a donor to be seen several times a year at their center, while others require just one visit.  Most times, much like any kind of organ donation, the decision to donate needs to be made well ahead of time.

For a listing of Parkinson’s brain banks in the US, browse PDF’s website, which includes our own PDF-funded brain bank at Columbia University Medical Center.

Back in 2010, Diana said her decision to donate was, “a magnificent legacy!”  Do you agree?

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