Sad News for Researchers

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to this. It seems that about a month ago, a freezer at the Harvard Brain Tissue Research Center failed, resulting in the thawing of close to 150 brains that had been donated for research. Of those affected, more than 50 were dedicated to autism research. The Boston Globe has up the story, which you can read right here.

This is a significant setback for autism research, as the brains in this freezer made up a full one-third of the total brains in Autism Speaks’ Autism Tissue Program. Scientists estimate that it could take up to ten years to obtain that many brains from generous organ donors.

Harry Kimball, at Brainstorm, a blog hosted by the Child Mind Institute, found a silver lining in this tragic event:

“Now, this loss may turn out to be a real blow to the current state of autism research—but it also illustrates just how far we have come. Foul play or malfunctioning freezer units aside, this incident gives us insight into a coordinated research effort that teams a leading advocacy organization with a top-tier research university and federal funding. We see families affected by autism and other psychiatric and neurological disorders eager to turn their own personal tragedies into opportunities for others. It is sad that something went terribly wrong, but at least it happened in the context of things being done so right.”

I found another silver lining. This loss highlights the need to support autism research. Programs like the Autism Tissue Program, AGRE, and the Interactive Autism Network rely largely on private donations. NIH gives some money, but it doesn’t come close to covering the ambitious projects that these organizations are undertaking. I know I’ve got the Make Me Go Blue challenge on this blog, and it’s got a fun side to it. I’d get a real kick out of dyeing my hair blue, and I’m sure a lot of folks would get a good laugh out of the pictures. But this is serious stuff. Autism diagnoses are ballooning, and scientists are only chipping around the edges of what’s causing the epidemic. So please consider making a donation. It’s a long road toward understanding this vexing, pervasive disorder. But every step along the way gets us that much closer. Thanks.

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