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Donors required to combat 'dire' research shortage

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UK scientists have appealed for people to donate their brains to researchers facing a "dire" shortage of grey matter, the BBC reports.

According to Dr Payam Rezaie of the Open University's Neuropathology Research Laboratory, scientists urgently need "thousands more brains... to look for the cause and treatments for conditions like autism and Alzheimer's disease".

He explained: "For autism, we only have maybe 15 or 20 brains that have been donated that we can do our research on. That is drastically awful. We would need at least 100 cases to get meaningful data. But that is just one example. A lot of research is being hindered by this restriction."

Professor James Ironside of the donation regulatory body, the Human Tissue Authority, noted that "as well as a shortage of diseased brains to study, there was a bigger problem of getting hold of healthy donor brains for comparison". He added that this was because of "poor awareness rather than people being squeamish".

Dr Kieran Breen of the Parkinson's Disease Society elaborated: "It is a question of awareness rather than anything else. There is also confusion. Some people are under the impression that if they sign up for a donor card that will include donating their brain for research. But it won't. Donor cards are about donating organs for transplant, not for medical science."

Accordingly, Breen suggested would-be donors "should contact one of the 15-20 brain banks dotted around the UK", such as the Brain Bank for Autism.

Other sites collecting brains for research include the Medical Research Council's Brain and Tissue Banks in Edinburgh, which focuses on "HIV infection of the brain and on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease", and the Parkinson's Disease Society Tissue Bank based at Imperial College London. ®

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