The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Centre (HBTRC) has opened a peculiar bank that collects and stores human brains! This is done to research and understand the complex working of human brains and in turn, try to find a way to beat the brain diseases and to study the human brain.
More than 2,000 brain samples are already stored to gain a steady supply of gray matter, which is necessary for all the testing. When a brain comes in, it is put into a plastic tub or bag and is either frozen or soaked in formalin depending on its future usage.
The brains are used to check and get to the cause of diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder. For that the HBTRC situated in McLean Hospital, Massachusetts brings in both the healthy brains as well as damaged ones, so that their differences can be compared and possible solutions can be sought out.
Assistant director of operations at the HBTRC, Jorge Tejada, who has been working at the center for 15 years, told in an interview, “We need to have the whole brain intact, with very little damage.”
The center depends on donors for their brain supply, and since they can deteriorate quickly after the body dies, they have a narrow 24-hour window to complete the process. This includes obtaining permission from the next of kin, extracting the brain in a delicate procedure using a pathologist and then storing it by putting it in ice or formalin.
Once a new brain is extracted, it’s divided into two halves. One is frozen and used for DNA analysis while the other is put in formalin and used for the study of tissue shape and proteins.
Detailed analysis for the cause of death is also done to spot out any viruses present, like HIV or hepatitis.
The center also ships brain samples all over the world when needed, and they claim that more than 9,000 brains have been registered in the bank since it opened in 1978. These days the hippocampus region, which is responsible for memory and spatial navigation, is high in demand across the globe.
Tejada added on, “When you have that brain in your hands you say: ‘Oh my God! This is what makes a person think, jump, talk, and do everything. How is it possible that these cells and tissues make such a wonderful machine? That’s an amazing part of my work, but I don’t have a way to explain that feeling.”