In a previous post about brain injuries in sport, I wrote about the Centre for Traumatic Encephalopathy, which collects and studies brain tissue from athletes involved in high-contact sports. Recently another "brain bank" has been in the news; the Harvard Brain Tissue Research Center at McLean Hospital, where a freezer malfunction damaged one-third of the world's largest collection of brain tissue donated for autism research.
150 brains were prematurely thawed as a result of the broken freezer, with alarm systems and daily inspections failing to alert staff to the malfunction until it was too late. Some of the tissue may still be useable for genetic research, but it's considered to be a huge setback in the field of autism research generally. Postmortem research has previously led to breakthroughs in the study of Huntingdon's disease and Parkinsons.
The loss of the potential research opportunities afforded by the collection is devastating not only to the medical community, but to the families of those whose brains were donated for research. The hospital is conducting two investigations into the fault, with a third carried out by a charity, Autism Speaks.