The Center for Organ Recovery and Education in O’Hara is one of 10 organ procurement organizations participating in a new nationally funded project to recover 30 brains for research aimed at unlocking the secrets of autism.
CORE has provided two of the three brains recovered so far. LifeGift, the organ procurement organization for much of Texas, recovered the third. The project, funded with $500,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health and coordinated by the Philadelphia-based National Disease Research Interchange, is about 2 months old.
In all, researchers hope to recover brains from 15 individuals who had autism and 15 who did not. After CORE, LifeGift and the other procurement organizations identify potential donors and obtain families’ consent for donation, the brains are sent to the University of Maryland Brain and Tissue Bank for examination.
The brains recovered so far all have been from individuals with autism — actually a group of neurobehavioral disorders characterized by repetitive behaviors, developmental delays and difficulty with social interaction or communication. More than 3 million Americans have the disorders, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks.
“The magnitude of these gifts — the potential scientific knowledge — is huge,” partly because examination of tissue can help researchers in ways that imaging of patients’ brains cannot, said Kevin Myer, LifeGift president and CEO. The donor brains could lead to identification of a genetic marker or new interventions for autism, he said.
CORE agreed to participate “because I don’t think there has been anyone who hasn’t been affected, directly or indirectly, by autism,” said Susan Stuart, CORE president and CEO.
The project required some new training for organ procurement coordinators. Unlike the usual organ donors, who die of severe head injuries, brain donors must die by other means.
Over the next two years, the research interchange said, it hopes to recover additional brains, from military veterans, to further research into traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. CORE and LifeGift said they are interested in that initiative, too.
Researchers at various institutions already procure and bank brains for neurological studies.
However, the number “per disorder is limited and additional donations are needed,” H. Ronald Zielke, brain and tissue bank director, said in an email. Often, he said, researchers must source brains from medical examiners.
Organ procurement organizations may prove to be an especially effective pipeline because of the number of deaths they scrutinize and their expertise in evaluating candidates for donation, securing family consent and preparing organs for shipment. Finding the right organ for research can be like “looking for a needle in a haystack,” Mr. Myer noted.
While procurement organizations most often are associated with life-saving organ transplants, they also routinely recover organs and tissues for research.
“It’s part of our mission,” said Richard Hasz, vice president of clinical services with Gife of Life Donor Program in Philadelphia, which is participating in the brain recovery initiative. CORE, LifeGift and Gift of Life also participated in the Genotype-Tissue Expression Project, a federal initiative that gathered various kinds of tissue for disease research.
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.