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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Donated brains 'in short supply'
By Jonathan Amos
BBC News science reporter, Dublin

Brain tissue (BBC)
The public need to think of brain donation in the same way as heart and kidney donation
The quest to find new treatments for Parkinson's disease is being hampered by a lack of donated brains for study.

There is a constant need for new tissue to work on but researchers told the British Association Science Festival this tissue was in short supply.

This was slowing drug development in a vital area of medicine, they argued.

With an ever ageing population, it is predicted the incidence of both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease is likely to go up.

Dr Kirstin Goldring, manager of the UK Parkinson's Disease Society Tissue Bank at Imperial College London, said: "Many of us would consider donating our kidney or heart if we were to die suddenly, but would you consider donating your brain?

"If not, why not?"

Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting the area of the brain that helps us coordinate our every movement. It affects about 120,000 in the UK.

Most of these people are elderly but Dr Goldring said some 10% of the people diagnosed with the disease were under 45.

Vital role

Donated brain tissue has played a vital part in developing some of the common drugs currently in use to treat the clinical symptoms of the disease, such as L-dopa.

But L-dopa only helps patients for a limited number of years before its benefits begin to fade and the search is on for more effective treatments.

People affected with disorders like Parkinson's naturally are more likely to register for brain donation schemes because they recognise work on their donated tissue may prevent future generations from getting the disease as well.

For every 25 Parkinson's brain donations, the Imperial bank gets just one donation from a healthy volunteer.

Dr Goldring said: "But we don't just need brains from people who have the disease, we need tissue from people that don't have the disease.

"In this way, we can compare what is going on in a normal, ageing brain with what is happening in a diseased brain."

Everyone could play a role in helping to fight debilitating brain diseases, she said.

The British Association Science Festival is being held this year in Dublin, Ireland, and runs until Saturday.

Parkinson's Disease
13 Mar 03 |  Medical notes

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