Today's Paper Archive Classifieds Subscriptions RSS Feeds Site Map ePaper Mobile Apps Social
SEARCH

WANTED: Brains

Share  ·   print   ·  

A severe shortage of brains is hampering potentially groundbreaking research into the causes and nature of autism.

For the sake of scienceA deep-frozen brain at a Brain Bank in Mysore. Autism has much to benefit from these registries.PHOTO: M.A.SRIRAM
For the sake of scienceA deep-frozen brain at a Brain Bank in Mysore. Autism has much to benefit from these registries.PHOTO: M.A.SRIRAM

World Autism Day was on 2 April and new funding is in place to research the causes of the condition. A severe shortage of brains is hampering potentially groundbreaking research into the causes and nature of autism.But the programme now desperately needs tissue donors

Although funding from the charity Autistica is in place for the research, it is extremely difficult to get people to donate their brains after death. And while many are happy to sign up to the national organ donation registry, the separate process of committing to brain donation has encountered resistance.

The UK Brain Bank for Autism has appealed for brains for four years, but so far only 22 have been donated, slowing down the pace of research at a time when there is growing interest in a condition affecting as many as one in 100 people.

Professor Margaret Esiri, director of the initiative is optimistic that a clearer understanding of what happens to the brains of people with autism will lead to a faster development of interventions that could improve the quality of life of those affected by the condition.

“We also need as many people as possible who don’t have autism to consider donating because we need control tissue.

People don’t realise that a normal brain can really be valuable for research.”

Obstacles

“It is not a very easy conversation to have because it involves looking towards a death of a child, for example, when all the efforts on the part of the medical profession are looking to the future of the child, not their death,” says Esiri. “The brain is so much the essence of who someone is; the idea of giving away the person themselves is difficult.” There is also hostility from some autism organisations to any research that could lead towards an in utero test for autism, which might lead to abortions, or any talk of a cure.

However, the aim of the brain bank is not to find a cure, but to improve understanding of the condition. “We may perhaps be able to offer amelioration of some aspects of autism, for example severe social anxiety,” Esiri says.

Esiri is hopeful that once people know about the work of her team, more individuals with autism will join the registry, or their families will sign up on their behalf. “If we could get 20 to 30 brains a year, that would be fantastic. A lot more could be done,” Esiri says. “There is a vast amount that needs to be learned.”

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013


  • What is autism? The developing brain is altered in autism but scientists do not yet know why or how.

  • Why does this happen? DNA research on blood samples has found some variant genes in autistic patients, particularly those known to be important in the development of connections between brain nerve cells.

  • Why brain bank? Analysis of the brain would allow greater understanding of whether this has a structural or chemical effect.

  • What are we hoping for? Eventually, if for example it was discovered that there was a shortage of some kind of growth factor that might enable nerve cells to develop, scientists might be able to find a molecule that would mimic its effect and give it in tablet form.



  • O
    P
    E
    N

    close

    Recent Article in IN SCHOOL

    Grizzlies edge Mavs in overtime

    Grab seventh place in playoffs for the West »