Autism Research Set Back by Destruction of Brain Samples
Saturday, June 16, 2012
(Pais by Wil C. Kerner, age 12)
Scientists conducting research into autism suffered a serious setback recently when a large number of brain tissue samples were destroyed by a freezer malfunction.
The accident occurred at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, which housed the world’s largest collection of donated autism brains. The freezer, part of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, experienced a serious temperature increase (from -79˚ Celsius to -7˚ Celsius) over the Memorial Day holiday. By the time a staff member discovered the problem, the brains inside the freezer had thawed and begun to rot. It is estimated that the malfunction occurred three days before it was discovered.
About 50 brain samples—one-third of the collection related to autism studies—were lost.
Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, said the loss could not be expressed in dollar amounts. “This was a priceless collection,” she told the Boston Globe.
Benes is leading one of two internal investigations into why the freezer stopped working properly and why two alarm systems didn’t go off so researchers could have learned of the problem sooner.
To rebuild the collection, the Center has asked for the donation of more brains. To do so, call 1-800-272-4622.
To Learn More:
Freezer Failure at Brain Bank Hampers Autism Research (by Karen Weintraub, Boston Globe)
What the Mclean Brain Bank Malfunction Means for Autism Research (by Simon Baron-Cohen, The Guardian)
Autism Fact Sheet (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
Environment May Be as Important as Genes in Causing Autism (by Noel Brinkerhoff, Ken Broder, AllGov)
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