Largest U.S. "Brain Bank" Receives 5,000th Brain

October 17, 2000 -- Belmont, MA -- The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital, the country’s oldest federally funded "Brain Bank" and the largest facility of its kind in the world, received its 5000th donated brain specimen this month. Established in 1978, the Brain Bank serves as a major resource for the collection and distribution of post-mortem human brain tissue for use in psychiatric and neurological research.

Today, the Brain Bank collects over 300 brains a year. The center distributes more than 4,000 individual brain tissue specimens annually to researchers worldwide. Researchers use these specimens in their search for clues into the causes of such devastating illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, among others.

Brain donation provides an opportunity for the public to be directly involved with helping to push the frontiers of brain research, says Brain Bank Director Francine Benes, MD, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Structural Neuroscience at McLean Hospital.

"Collecting 5,000 brains represents 22 years of commitment and active involvement by donors and their families who have suffered with brain disorders," says Benes. "These families understand the importance of research and are willing to do all that they can to help find answers. Brain donation represents the hope that the next generation will not have to endure the suffering of those before them. The research community owes a debt of gratitude and a sincere thank you to all of the donor families that have given this very special gift to science."

While the field of psychiatric research has benefited greatly because of brain donation, a critical need remains for brain tissue from individuals with the severe psychiatric disorders of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as from parents, siblings and offspring of those individuals.

"Scientists are trying to understand why people with these illnesses get sick in the first place. If researchers can define the pathophysiology of these disorders, then they will be able in the future, to develop more effective forms of treatments," says Benes.

Another critical need, she adds, is for normal brain tissue. "Non-diseased tissues are needed because in all research, it is absolutely necessary to use normal specimens as a benchmark."

Brain donation is compatible with the donation of corneas, bone, skin, heart valves and other tissues. It also is compatible with the beliefs of major religions and does not interfere with traditional funeral arrangements, thus making it an option for many people.

For those who may be interested in becoming a brain donor, Benes suggests discussing it with close family members and then registering as a future donor. Registration forms can be obtained by calling 1-800-Brain Bank (1-800-272-4622). For further information, log on to