Brain Donation is Possible While We are Alive

Neuroscientist Ed Lein examines adult brain activities by studying living human tissue.

Brain Donation is Possible While We are Alive
Brain Donation

Brain Donation is Possible While We are Alive!


Scientists have recently developed a live donor program that allows the voluntary donors to donate a piece of their brain easier than ever. Many patients undergo brain surgery for tumor removal or other brain-related problems. In this treatment, a piece of the brain that is about to be wasted away otherwise can be used by scientists. Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science is working on this program. The team is performing under the leadership of Ed Lein, neuroscientist. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) holds annual meetings every year. The team presented their findings in this meeting held on February 13. “Science” published this study.


Some important questions and answers on this program:


What about the journey of a piece of brain from the operating room to the lab?

The journey is pretty quick, says Lein. Currently, he is inspecting a series of samples collected from the donor who is having treatment for their epilepsy or deep tumors. After removing the sugar-cube-sized tissue samples, the surgeons send them quickly to the lab. They keep the samples alive by keeping them in a medium that is full of nutrients. The research team can collect about 50 samples each year.    



Are these samples precious?

According to Lein, the brain is extremely cellularly complex. He also remarks that they are indefinable and finite at the same time. If the team is able to identify and describe every cell’s type in the brain, they will be able to assess every neuron’s role play. 

The team can have a great deal of information from cell cultures and their study. The information is capable of finding out what happens to our brain when we are healthy and when affected by any disease. Lein opines that scientists need to

experiment on human tissue to have a better understanding of the human brain. The typical process to learn the brain’s anatomy from postmortem samples is helpful. But, the samples from the living donors can provide the neuroscientists with three key functional features of neurons. They are; their appearance, how they work and the activity of their genes. Lein says, by focusing on this “trifecta”, researchers can have a look at the behavior of adult human neurons in real-time.  

He believes that researchers will be able to understand brain diseases and develop newer therapies to fight with them by studying living brain tissues. 


How are human brains different from mouse brains?

Lein says, “On the one hand, things are really quite similar. But on the other, the details of those types of cells vary significantly across species.”

Although both cell types look so similar to each other, there are differences.

Serotonin receptor genes are the ideal difference marker between the two as per the team found it out last year. Serotonin is involved in depression, anxiety, and other issues. Lein says, “It turns out the receptors that are turned on by serotonin are among the worst conserved between mouse and human.” This vital difference is the main reason behind the failure of the new drugs on human clinical trials that did good with the mice in the lab.  

Donating a piece of your brain; easy or hard?

Neuroethics from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Karen Rommelfanger says, “There's not a uniform way in the U.S. really to donate your brain, much less brain tissue. They feel it's a way for their illness to help others.”

Rommelfanger remarks that patients should voluntarily perform in this program after having the idea on how their tissues will firstly help researchers and eventually all of us. He says, “This is what prevents humans from being reduced to a reserve of tissue, organs and body parts.”

In the process of brain postmortem donations, brain donations are quite hard. The organ donors can donate any of their organs after death. But brain donation does not follow the steps as the other organs do. Lein says, “It's really an onerous process.” To have consent from the family and collecting autopsy specimens working along with medical examiners make the process harder for the researchers.  

As a sign of their culture, many East Asian countries are on behalf of burying a body with an intact brain. Researchers need to consider cultural beliefs. Rommelfanger says, “The tissue itself has an intuitive meaning or a cultural meaning.”

Rommelfanger says that the willful donors with whom Lein is working should be part of a special program and their surgery is already done. Many other research institutions are initiating living tissue donation programs who run brain surgeries.