About brain banking
What are brain banks?
Rather like money in high street banks, brains are deposited in a brain bank after someone has died. The brain tissue is frozen or preserved, catalogued with the medical history of the patient and then made available to qualified scientists and doctors to do research. Brain banks are maintained under the strictest ethical guidelines by major institutes (e.g. universities and hospitals) and are often created by patient organisations, particularly those supporting rare diseases for which the availability of research material is limited. Among of the most well known in the UK are the London Brain Bank for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease Brain Banks.
Why are Brain Banks needed?
Brain banks, such as the Brain Bank for Autism, represent a concerted and dedicated effort to collect post-mortem brain and brain tissue from individuals who are affected by a particular disorder, so that scientists have a centralised resource. This ensures best use, best practice and sharing of this scarce and precious resource for scientific research. Concentrated efforts to develop a brain bank are particularly important in autism, since building this type of resource is costly and often beyond the capabilities of individual research groups. Also if the brain collection is performed uniformly it is possible to standardise the type of information gathered about the brain donor such as the medical history and this is valuable in helping interpret the research findings.
What use is post-mortem brain research?
Research into the microscopic changes in brain structure which occur in autism, then relating these to the differences in gene and protein expression, could help us understand what is going on at a level of detail that could point to new ideas about how to intervene effectively. Pharmacological and/or behavioural interventions could reverse or counteract the changes. Brain imaging is marvellous for seeing the big picture but it is impossible to translate what we see into the chemical processes involving proteins that are the basis of all medicines.