The Doctors takes you inside one of the first brain banks in the U.S., where 2,000 human brains are stored and used to research conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, depression, drug addiction and childhood neuro-development disorders.
Dr. Deborah Mash, director of the Brain Endowment Bank at the University of Miami, says one brain can provide tissue samples for hundreds of scientists throughout the country.
She examines the brain of someone who had dementia, pointing out large fissures, which indicate that the person had lost brain matter.
Dr. Mash explains that the human brain is extremely complex.
“There are 100 billion neurons, almost as many as there are stars in the Milky Way,” she says.
She says researchers are able to isolate genes and DNA from single neurons to map the brain to the cellular level. That allows them to identify the pathways and biomarkers of degenerative disorders and develop medications that could help cure such conditions.
“We’ve learned more about the human brain in the past 20 years than throughout all of human history,” Dr. Mash says. “We have new tools to study the brain, and with that and the brains donated for research, we will bring about cures, new treatments and better ways to diagnose.”
Dr. Mash encourages anyone interested in donating their brain for research after death to discuss their wishes with their family members and health care providers. Anyone interested in becoming a donor should register with the brain endowment and fill out a questionnaire. There is no cost to the donor or the family, and both healthy and diseased brains are needed. A brain autopsy is conducted within 12 hours of death, and a neuropathology report of a final diagnosis is mailed to the family within nine months.
For more information about how to become a registered donor, visit the Brain Endowment Bank’s website.