How to donate a piece of your brain to science—while you’re still alive | Science
SEATTLE—Donating a piece of your brain to biomedical analysis has by no means been simpler. Scientists have developed a profitable reside donor program, the place sufferers present process brain surgical procedure can contribute a piece of their brain that might in any other case be tossed away. The researchers—led by neuroscientist Ed Lein on the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle—introduced their method right here yesterday on the annual assembly of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes Science.
Here are solutions to some of our greatest questions:
How does a piece of brain go from the working room to the lab?
It occurs in a short time, says Lein. All the samples he works with are from donors who’re going below neurosurgery to deal with epilepsy or to take away deep tumors. Once surgeons take away the sugar-cube-sized tissue samples, researchers have to transport them shortly to the lab and preserve them in a medium with vitamins so they continue to be alive. Lein and his staff get bout 50 brain samples a yr.
Why are these samples so treasured?
The brain “is extremely cellularly complex,” says Lein, “but at the same time, finite and indefinable.” If every cell kind within the brain could be recognized and described intimately, neuroscientists can perceive the position each neuron performs.
Cell cultures and rodent research provide a lot of details about what occurs within the brain in well being and illness, he says, however to perceive the human brain scientists want to experiment on human tissue. Postmortem samples are a wonderful means to research the anatomy of the brain, however dwelling tissue permits neuroscientists to perceive three key purposeful options of neurons: what they seem like, how they hearth, and what their genes are doing. This “trifecta” helps researchers to monitor how grownup human neurons behave in actual time, Lein says, which is essential to make sense of the brain circuits that underlie cognition and habits.
Ultimately, he says, scientists may use these dwelling brain tissue to perceive illness and develop novel therapies.
What makes the human brain totally different from the mouse brain?
“On the one hand, things are really quite similar,” says Lein. Each cell kind look very a lot the identical. “But on the other, the details of those types of cells vary significantly across species.”
One of the main variations lies in serotonin receptor genes, Lein and his staff discovered final yr. Serotonin is concerned in main despair and is the goal of antidepressant medicine. It’s additionally concerned in nervousness and plenty of different issues. “It turns out the receptors that are turned on by serotonin are among the worst conserved between mouse and human,” Lein says. That might be a main motive why some new medicine that work in fundamental research in mice fail in scientific trials.
How simple is to donate a chunk of your brain?
“There’s not a uniform way in the in the U.S. really to donate your brain, much less brain tissue,” says Karen Rommelfanger, a neuroethicist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. But if donors need to do it, she says, they need to find a way to. “They feel it’s a way for their illness to help others.”
Rommelfanger additionally talked about that sufferers want to “truly volunteer,” and have a say in how researchers will use their tissues. “This is what prevents humans from being reduced to a reserve of tissue, organs and body parts.”
Even postmortem donations are very difficult. If persons are organ donors, they will donate their organs after loss of life, however that does not apply to the brain. “It’s really an onerous process,” provides Lein. Researchers want to join with the household for consent and take a look at to work with medical experts to have entry to post-mortem specimens.
Moreover, in some East Asian cultures, a physique has to buried with an intact brain, added Rommelfanger, so researchers additionally want to take cultural traditions into consideration. “The tissue itself has an intuitive meaning or a cultural meaning.”
Those who need to donate to the varieties of research Lein does want to be half of a particular program and have to be slated for surgical procedure already, Rommelfanger says. Other analysis establishments the world over that carry out these brain surgical procedures are beginning to develop their very own dwelling tissue donation packages.