Why is a neurologically normal brain donation useful?
For every study performed on a brain with a neurological disease, it is critically important that comparison is made with a ‘normal brain’ to ensure that the results obtained relate to the disease and are not found in all brains. This means that for every brain with a disease that we receive we would ideally also have a matching normal brain. Furthermore, many of the studies that we perform are designed to help us understand normal brain function. Such studies involve investigating which areas of the brain are connected to one another, how neurons communicate with one another and which neurotransmitters are produced by each brain cell type (neurons and glial cells). Additionally, the normal or resting state of the support cells or so-called glial cells can also be determined. There is much we do not know about the brain and many more research studies are needed before the brain will be fully understood.
Brain chemistry studies
One of the major advances in our understanding of the brain in recent years has been the demonstration that over 100 different neurotransmitters may be present in the brain. In particular diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease there are specific losses of different groups of neurons and a subsequent reduction in the abundance of the associated neurotransmitter that leads to the major symptoms. In order to understand what these changes are we need to understand the normal brain chemistry. To this end we are undertaking a large number of studies to identify the different cell types present in each area of the brain and also which neurotransmitters they produce. As a part of these studies, we are also identifying the different regions that are connected within the brain. These are methodical studies that require the human brain tissue to be thinly sliced and stained using special antibody markers that enable the detection of multiple specific neurotransmitters and proteins to be visualised using a microscope.
Growing brain cells from brain tissue
Recent work in our laboratories have revealed that human brain cells can be kept alive in cell culture conditions for up to a year after someone dies and donates their brain to the Brain Bank. This exciting discovery allows us to trial drugs directly on the cells that are diseased and have been affected by a neurological disease. To carry out this technique the post-mortem delay must be minimal and the areas where cells remain alive in the brain must be removed and processed quickly to get optimal cell growth. These brain cell cultures hold great promise for understanding how diseases of the brain affect individual cells and will allow many new therapies to be trialled.
Genetic studies on brain tissue
The genetic basis for neurological disease is a hot topic and has been critical for understanding why some people are affected by diseases like Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and motor neuron disease, and others are not. Performing studies to understand the genetic influence that allows one person to live a normal life without a neurological disease is of critical importance. We work with genetics experts at the Centre for Brain Research who are seeking answers to how some genes cause disease while others protect from disease. In addition, in order to study the effects of specific gene expression on human brain cells in culture, we undertake studies involving knocking genes out or expressing them at high levels in cultured human brain cells. We use the cultured human brain cells to test the effects of individual genes on the cultured stem cells
Drug discovery for brain disease
We have also teamed up with a group of medicinal chemists at the University of Auckland who are making potential drugs by using novel chemistry techniques. We are then able to screen them for toxicity and for efficacy in cell cultures including on diseased (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease brain) human brain cells grown from the brain post-mortem. The classification of the drugs and the targets they work on are diverse and the hope is that one or more of these drugs may one day become useful for slowing the progression of the disease.
For emergencies call 111 or visit your nearest hospital
For general inquiries:
+64 9 923 6072 – Mrs Marika Eszes, Brain Bank Manager
At time of death:
+64 21 287 8476 – Professor Maurice Curtis, Co-Director
The Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank
Centre for Brain Research
The University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019