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SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY > Freezer fault destroys brain data

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This photo shows a container with brain slices at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, the world’s largest brain tissue bank, at McLean Hospital in Belmont. AP Photo

This photo shows a container with brain slices at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, the world’s largest brain tissue bank, at McLean Hospital in Belmont. AP Photo

A freezer failure at the world’s largest brain tissue bank has damaged nearly 150 stored brains, including one-third of those used in autism research, potentially delaying discoveries in the field for years.

The federally funded Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, housed at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, provides tissue for the study of neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease, autism, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

A technician at the hospital discovered that the freezer had failed on May 31 when he opened it to retrieve a sample. Of the 150 thawed brains in the freezer, 54 were designated for autism research, while 93 were designated for research on psychiatric conditions and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s.

The freezer was one of 24 used by the brain bank, which stores about 3,000 brains in total.

Research on autism will likely be most affected since there was a greater concentration of autism brains in the freezer, about a third of the total collection.

“This is a significant loss, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dr. Francine Benes, director of the brain bank.

“It will delay progress in the field of research.”

The hospital is investigating whether the brains might still hold value for genetic research, and initial indications are positive. “It appears that the DNA may be in a reasonable form for genetic studies,” Benes said.

June/13/2012

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