Human brain research Made Easier by Database

Alzheimer’s Research UK has welcomed a new online database that will allow scientists to access brain tissue to study diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Researchers will be able to access samples from more than 7,000 donated human brains to help study major brain diseases, thanks to the database, launched by the Medical Research Council (MRC) today.

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The UK Brain Banks Network database speeds up access to donated brain samples held across 10 brain banks in the UK and allows researchers studying a range of neurodegenerative and developmental diseases to track down human tissue samples for their work.

Thanks to a unique collaboration between the MRC and five leading charities, the database will help scientists from academia and industry investigate the underlying causes of major brain diseases and understand how they take hold in our bodies.

Although scientists can model diseases in the lab, to fully understand dementia and other brain-related disorders they need to study human brain tissue. A lot of research relies on donated brain tissue stored in brain banks across the UK. Until today, researchers had to apply to each brain bank in turn to find out if they held the samples they needed and find the ‘control’ samples (donated brains free from disease) for comparison – a long and drawn out process. Now samples can be found with the click of a button from one source.

Prof James Ironside, Director of the MRC UK Brain Banks Network, said:
“The database is the result of four years of painstaking planning and data analysis by very dedicated people. It will enable quick and easy access for researchers who are already working on neurological or psychiatric disease (perhaps in animal models or cells) and would like to translate their findings into human tissue and is very useful for those who are planning a grant application. The brain banks have already been given ethical approval, cutting out the need for researchers to go through a separate ethics application.

“We must remember that vital research would not be possible without the generosity of those individuals who donate their brains to medical research. We’re working hard to make sure that the access for researchers studying brain samples is much easier. The next step is to improve the systems for those wishing to donate their brain to medical research.”

Prof Paul Francis, Director of Brains for Dementia Research which is funded by Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, in association with the Medical Research Council, said:
”Finding better treatments and ultimately a cure is the holy grail of dementia research. This new online database is another step forward which will ensure that even more researchers are able to make the most of these valuable resources. Without the generosity of people willing to pledge to donate their brains, this research would not be possible and our hopes of transforming the lives of people with dementia would be unattainable.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Studies using brain tissue are crucial for advancing our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia – by building a picture of the changes that occur in the brain in diseases like Alzheimer’s, we can also identify new targets for treatment development.

“We are continually humbled by the generosity of people who have donated their brains for research, but for their actions to help move research forward it’s essential that scientists can easily access the right tissue. The UK Brain Banks Network database is a fantastic resource that will enable researchers to track down the samples they need much faster, potentially speeding up results. We desperately need effective treatments for dementia, and research holds the answers: this initiative from the MRC is a real boost for research.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK is one of five leading charities that helped to supply data for the database, along with the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Autistica.

For more information about the database visithttp://www.mrc.ac.uk/brainbanksnetwork

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