Brain banks: Crucial for research, clamouring for donors
Last Updated: Monday, September 22, 2008 | 7:56 AM ET
By Gloria Troyer
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Brain banks. The work they do is not widely publicized — most people who consider signing donor cards think along the lines of organs such as the hearts and kidneys for transplant — but it's crucial for many researchers trying to understand the causes and characteristics of myriad diseases.
"Brain donations and brain banks are absolutely essential to neurological and psychiatric research," says Dr. Margaret Fahnestock, professor of neuroscience in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton.
"One of the main reasons is that there are few to no good cellular or animal models of most neuropsychiatric conditions — schizophrenia and autism, for example," she says. "This is because we currently have a poor understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of most neuropsychiatric disorders."
Fahnestock says that in light of the lack of good experimental models, one of the best ways to make progress in understanding these disorders — and thereby to make progress in prevention or therapy — is to compare the chemistry and structure of normal and abnormal human brains.
"Thus, the generosity of donors of both normal and abnormal brains is critical to our research effort," she says.