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Brain donation: what is it, what is the purpose?

Donate your brain: the idea seems quite absurd. But when you think about it, once you die, the organ won’t be of much use to us… A bit like a heart, or a lung. But these last two, if entrusted to the organ donation, are removed and transplanted from living people, which in particular saves lives. However, the brain cannot be transplanted. SO, why participate in brain donation ?

How is the brain donation going?

As explained by Overcoming Alzheimer’s Foundationpartner of the week of the brain, “the objective is to promote therapeutic research on neurodegenerative diseases”.

Concretely, this donation happens like this: you must, during your lifetime, complete a post-mortem collection consent file. After the death of the patient, the coordinator is notified and takes care of organizing the collection: the body is taken to a dedicated center within 24 hours of death. A neuropathologist takes care of the operation, then the body is returned to the family. Afterwards, brain matter is entrusted to the Neuro-CEB biobank. This is a tissue bank, which collects brain samples for research purposes.

The first step is to analyze the samples to clarify the diagnosis of the patient’s disease. But there isn’t always one, because everyone can donate their brains. The biobank needs to have in its database tissues from people affected by neuro-evolutionary diseases and others who are not sickin order to be able to compare them.

What is brain donation used for?

Many diseases that affect the central nervous system still lack answers, as to their origin, or how to treat them, for example. It’s the case Alzheimer’sbut also Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis. However, from a sample of the brain, we can contribute to advancing these questions, in particular thanks to the search for biomarkers, a crucial step in developing treatments.

Moreover, when we do research, we often use animals, such as mice, because these rodents are very compatible with the human species: 90% of their genes are in common with us. But on the side of the brain, it is more complicated. “No experimental model is similar to that of humans“, recalls the Vaincre Alzheimer Foundation. Animal models are used, but Alzheimer’s disease, among other things, is not perfectly mimicked.

According to estimates: a brain donation would help research for 10 years. Because it is very small pieces that are kept and which thus make it possible to feed many studies.

On the other hand, the reference center for rare or early onset dementia recalls: “The availability of pathological or normal human tissue is today very seriously compromised in France: the autopsies which made it possible to obtain samples have fallen into disuse, the rules of consent are more restrictive, and the conditions of use of the human tissue for research have become very restrictive.”

An example of a discovery made thanks to brain donation

What causes the β-amyloid protein to deposit in the brain, leading to one of the lesions responsible for Alzheimer’s disease? Thanks to brain donation, researchers found that one of the causes was transmission between two people in some transplant cases.

For example, via an injection of growth hormones from brains for example. Or again, in the event of a neurosurgical procedure with grafting of tissues of brain origin. It has been observed that amyloid deposits have been transmitted in this way, thereby compromising the “healthy” brain of the recipient.

Sources:

  • Overcoming Alzheimer’s Foundation
  • Reference center for rare or early onset dementias

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