Multiple sclerosis damages human brains, so MS researchers often study mice brains. How can multiple sclerosis be cured or prevented without studies of human brains? Researchers need the anatomical bequests of MS brains.
Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center
Harvard University specifically collects and studies brains (and brain tissue), including those with multiple sclerosis. The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBRTC) accepts brains with and without disorders.
Preregistration allows the best chance of a successful donation. Time is crucial because brains must be iced within six hours of death, and transported to HBRTC within 24 hours.
Anatomical donations in my city
Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, includes medical school training that uses whole body donation. I have signed up to donate. One big plus for donors, besides giving future doctors actual experience with real human bodies, is free cremation after completion. While you can still have your ashes returned to your family for burial, they also offer a group burial with other donors at no charge.
However, at the present time, they do not allow for brains to be separated for use in a biobank like the HBTRC. There are several reasons for this. First, in order to take out the brain, it requires an autopsy — a time-critical autopsy, as noted above. Then, because the integrity of the whole body could be considered compromised from one point of view, the rest of the body (incorrectly in my opinion) is deemed unacceptable for medical students.
Because the Mayo Clinic is in my hometown, it has a majority of my medical records to go along with my body. I had back surgery here when I was 12 years old (broken back). Even without my brain, the opportunity to study a spinal fusion decades later seems pretty darn valuable to me.
Why I plan to donate
My mother died last year (94 years old with dementia, but she knew me to her peaceful end). She donated her body to the Mayo Clinic, and I received her ashes and buried them a few days ago. There will be a ceremony in the spring where I will be able to meet some of the doctors who benefited from this gift. My mother’s death may save lives in the future.
This is why I also plan to donate. However, it really bothers me that there is an acute shortage of MS brains for research. I spoke to the people at HBTRC last week, and was told they had received only one or two MS brains in recent years.
Since the Mayo Clinic already has the body donation, related methodology, and the cremation process in place, it makes sense that they could collaborate with HBTRC. I plan to approach them, with the help of the HBTRC people, to work out a coordination of efforts to increase MS brain donations as soon as possible.
We have hundreds (maybe thousands) of people with diagnosed MS here in Olmsted County, my hometown. Many people have medical records at the Mayo Clinic that could contribute to a much more complete understanding of MS.
Donation value of a brain
I think my brain is worth a free cremation for my body. I also am going to encourage the use of the rest of donors’ bodies for research beyond med school training.
I am not content to just let my MS brain be disposed of for casual training for which any brain will do. The Harvard donations are shared with many researchers, not just those at Harvard.
So, I hope to make change happen at the local level for brain donations to Harvard’s biobank, and hope more MS patients will consider doing the same. Maybe the cure for MS lays in our very own brains.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.