Recently, when someone mentioned something about a brain bank, I immediately thought of a collection of ideas that are referred to as the brain bank by any company executive in a staff meeting. I was wrong. A brain bank is exactly what its name says: a bank for collection of actual brains collected from donors after their death.
Top research and medical centers need brain tissues for their investigations. Since a donated brain can provide a large number of samples and most of the studies need a not too big a tissue, one brain can help a lot of different researches. More than the count of brains, a variety of brain specimens are needed; therefore, normal brains are just as, or even more, in demand because normal brains provide comparison to the diseased brains as control tissue. For example, especially in Schizophrenia, protein differences inside the diseased brain and the normal brain are easily detected.
The so-called normal brain tissue is the brain tissue donated by individuals who did not have head trauma, seizure, dementia, delirium, or drug or alcohol abuse in their lifetime. Very often, brain banks run ads asking for normal brains because they are the kind most often to become scarce.
The recently gathered brain tissue is usually kept in short term refrigeration or -20 C freezer. For the long term maintenance, the brain tissue needs -85 C freezers.
As of today, brain tissue research has contributed to the understanding of many serious diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Muscular Dystrophy, and Autism. Brain banks request tissues not only from the persons who are afflicted, but also from their parents, siblings, and other family members.
Becoming a future brain tissue donor is not difficult. Any person 18 years or older can fill out a form or a questionnaire and send it to a brain bank of his choice, but the most important thing is to inform one’s family of this–or any other organ–donation. Frequently, the family decides at the last minute whether or not to donate the organs. The survivors of the donor have to confirm the donor’s intent and they have to give their authorization to a Brain Bank to receive the donor’s medical records.
If a person is already a registered organ donor, his brain does not automatically go to a brain bank. A donor has to sign up with the center of his choice, so the brain is collected as well. A donor can also add his donor information to his medical ID, if he carries one on himself.
Some research centers in most US States maintain their own brain tissue banks like the Mayo Clinic, The New York Brain Bank (NYBB) at Columbia University, The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (phone: 1-800-272-4622), and the University of Massachusetts. For autism research, the number to call is 1-877-333-0999 for Autism Tissue Program. If a brain is to go to a certain disease’s research in any one state, it is a good idea to find out if a research center in that state has its own brain bank.
The federally funded brain bank, a part of the Stanley Foundation, is in Washington D.C., behind Bethesda Naval Hospital, in a federal building where the donor brains are kept in 56 freezers, hooked up to a central computer. If the air conditioners fail, the computer calls the home numbers of brain-bank employees, who come to turn them back on. The good thing about this bank is that the tissue samples from one brain can be sent to different centers for research. Even the most accomplished brain banks sometimes request for additional tissue from the national Brain Bank.
Donating one’s brain is a dignified act because human morality and almost all religions encourage compassion. Being an organ donor and especially a brain tissue donor is a way to help the future of humanity.