Scientists Need Your Brains, No Seriously

A tasty and scientifically interesting brain in the Science Museum, London. Jonathan Melhuish/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Scientists want your brains. By that, we don't mean the complex abstract ideas inside them. Instead, they actually need that springy gray bundle of neurons in your head.

While you're no doubt aware of donating your liver, kidney, heart, lungs, or other body parts to science, many people are unaware that the brain is also a highly sought after specimen for researchers to get their scalpels into.

A new report by BBC News has revealed some brain banks in the US are suffering from a shortage of specimens, which could potentially be holding back research into mental illness and neurological disorders. This is because not enough people in some areas are donating their brains to science after they die. Firstly, many are unaware there’s a demand for them and secondly because the majority of people see their mental condition as purely a psychological issue, rather than an anatomical one.

“If people think that there are no changes in the brain of somebody that suffers from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder then there is no reason for them to donate their brain for research because there is nothing there to find," Professor Sabina Berretta, the scientific director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, told BBC News. "This conception is radically wrong from a biological point of view."

This is just as true when it comes to understanding, and possibly even finding a cure for, neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and Parkinson's disease. Brain tissue donations have already massively opened up the study of brain-associated conditions, much of which has come from healthy brains. Quite simply, the more brains the better.

"Research made possible through the donation of brain tissue has already led to major advances in our understanding of Parkinson’s and resulted in new treatments that are currently being developed and tested,” Claire Bale, head of research communications and engagement at Parkinson's UK, said in a statement.

In the US you can donate your precious brain to the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center by simply filling out a Brain Donor Registration application. You, or someone on your behalf, can then call up 1-800-BRAINBANK (1-800-272-4622) – no, that’s not a joke – just before or after death. There are many similar schemes in countries across the world. 

So, get your head into gear and get signed up to a donation program. 

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