Going 3D: The BigBrain Is A Gift That Keeps on Giving

brain_nl11This blog is part one in a series of three about the BigBrain.

Do you remember the moment of putting on 3D glasses in a movie theater? There was awe and excitement as stories and images that were flat came to life. There was similar excitement yesterday when researchers reported in Science that they have created BigBrain, a high resolution 3D digital image of the brain.

To understand the excitement, it’s important to understand that like a 3D movie, this image isn’t simply a flat picture of the brain. It is incredibly in-depth. Have you ever had an MRI? Well this is hundreds of thousands times more detailed.  Some have compared BigBrain to Google Earth, which shows much of the globe, piece by piece. Scientists think this up-close-and-personal view will help us understand how the brain works.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the BigBrain story, is the one of how it came to be. BigBrain was reconstructed from a real donated brain, from a 65-year old woman who had passed away. She gave her brain to science, and now we may all benefit for years to come.

For it’s true that the brain truly is the final frontier. Did you know that even with BigBrain, brain donation remains an urgent need for understanding PD?

We can study other organs while a person is alive, but we cannot easily access and view a brain. The only way to study to do so to date has been to study brains donated to science. Brain donations enable scientists to learn more, for example by comparing a person’s medical records and PD symptoms, to their brain tissue after death.

That said, brain donation often brings up many questions and concerns for people with PD and their families. A few years ago, PDF Research Advocate Diana Barnwell wrote a beautiful story, “My Last Gift”, about her decision to donate her brain to research, which may provide food for thought.

What’s your view of brain donation, and of this gift that made BigBrain possible?

At PDF, we always say that we can’t do our part without you. And in looking at BigBrain as an example, it’s true. In fact, this brain is only the first to be mapped. Scientists report planning to map other donor brains, including a male brain and others whose donors lived with certain diseases or conditions.

This emphasizes that it’s your participation in research – including via brain donation – that brings us closer to solving Parkinson’s. So we say thank you to the anonymous donor that made BigBrain possible, and thank you to you.

Learn about brain donation by reading Diana’s story, “My Last Gift,” here, or by browsing PDF’s list of US brain banks here.

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