Brain Research – Why Not?

Could You Give Away Your Brain?

Once again, let me start this off with a quote:

“More people need to donate their brains to medical research if cures for diseases like dementia are to be found, UK scientists say”. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7813114.stm)

This is true – After all, how can we perform scientific research on something we don’t have? But would you be willing to give away your brain to science once you had passed on?

Key protein identified that moves Parkinson’s treatments a step closer – 3 October 2011
New research at the University of Oxford – part-funded by Parkinson’s UK – has identified a key protein called Nedd4 that may lead to the development of potential new treatments for Parkinson’s.”

The human brain is an amazingly complex structure, far too difficult to replicate and impossible to study closely in a living human being – at least without breaking several codes of ethical conduct. The close up study of the brain is essential to further our research in areas such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Autism – being just a few of the hundreds of other brain disorders out there. For us as psychologists we would have to perform identical tests across a large sample of subjects in order to achieve valid results; however there are very few brains available for research within the UK – How do we use so little to create meaningful results?

Our research leads to new trial of ‘iron removal’ drug for Parkinson’s – 12 September 2011
Exciting new research at Imperial College London Hospital is getting underway to test Deferiprone – a drug that helps remove excess iron from the body – as a new treatment for Parkinson’s.”

But why are there so few brains available to such important research? It would seem that it is mostly down to a poor awareness of the subject in general; and then some common misconceptions. I came across some interesting views while scanning through the many pages of internet, but the most used reason I found for not wanting to donate a brain was on the basis of religion. Now this is a whole subject in itself and not one I will go into with this blog. However if you wish to read some of what I was looking at, this would certainly be the most ‘interesting’ source: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/poll/would_you_donate_your_body_to_science_after_you_die

Parkinson’s UK-funded scientists grow nerve cells from skin cells – 23 August 2011
For the first time our scientists have grown new nerve cells from a person with one of the most rapidly progressing inherited forms of Parkinson’s. This exciting study has the potential to bring about a huge breakthrough in Parkinson’s research.”

Is this good enough? Should we even have to ask? In my opinion the reward for research in this area far outweighs the cost – after all, if we don’t donate it, it will either rot away in the ground or be cremated with us (Unless we opt in for Cryogenics). We have already learned so much from this type of research – a few examples of which you will notice dotted throughout this blog, but without this research we would not be able to establish a link between Dopamine and Parkinson’s disease or the relationship between brain structure and Autism. Furthermore, without being able to test possible solutions on human samples how can we possibly declare our findings are at all relevant to humans?

So back to my first question – Could you give away your brain?

And for more information on research see:
http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/
http://www.brainbankforautism.org.uk/
http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/

Research quotes taken from:
http://www.parkinsons.org.uk/research/research_news.aspx

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About DJPsych

... And now I find my self in my first year at Bangor University (Wales, United Kingdom), studying Psychology with Neuropsychology With the long term goal of gaining my Doctorate. In the shorter term however, I intend on sharing with you all, my thoughts and opinions across a wide variety of subjects within the vast realm that is 'Psychology'. However, if you want to hear (Or indeed read), my opinion on wether Psychology can be called a 'Science', then it would probably be best to email me (: View all posts by DJPsych

2 responses to “Brain Research – Why Not?

  • dianoracorsini

    It is true, we need a lot more research done on all brain disorders that exist but in fact brain donation is rare. Of course it would help to further the research, but don’t you think that a brain is more valuable when active? You need a functioning brain to identify the ways in which it works and how obscurities, i.e disorders occur/ appear. But science encounters a wall because of the ethical issues. It is not ethical to use living brains because it could cause severe permanent damage to the patient.

  • bcrane92

    This a thought-provoking blog that raises several interesting points. I think more should be done to promote leaving one’s body to science. I agree that the rewards far outweigh the costs, there is so much about the brain still to be learnt yet cannot be studied due to a lack of supply. Although the study and dissection of brains would be useful in showing the effects of certain diseases and conditions on the brain, in some areas it may have limited use in showing causality. For example, dissected brains of schizophrenics show excess dopamine in certain areas of the brain, however it is not known if the dopamine is the cause of schizophrenia or schizophrenia causes the excess dopamine. Furthermore, studies of a limited number of brains may be subject to individual differences. As dianoracorsini stated, studies of functioning brains are often more useful as it shows brain activity and can help show cause and effect to a greater extent. I also think that you make an excellent point about donating your body to science. A body donated to science is far more useful than one left to rot in the ground or being cremated.

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