Jeremy Paxman and Jane Asher to donate brains for research

Brain in a jarBrainiacs Jeremy Paxman and Jane Asher have both pledged to donate their brains for research into Parkinson’s disease – after they’re dead of course.

The Parkinson’s Disease Society has launched a campaign to increase awareness about brain donation as part of national Parkinson’s Awareness Week.

According to research commissioned by the Parkinson’s Disease Society, only 27% of people have considered donating their brain.  Conversely, 29% of people know someone affected by Parkinson’s disease.

The Society is hoping to double the number of people on the Parkinson’s Brain Donor Register by the end of 2009. Over 1,000 people have already signed up.

Parkinson’s is an incurable neurodenerative disease that is caused by loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain.  Dopamine is responsible for co-ordinating movement, so sufferers of Parkinson’s disease have trouble with movements such as walking and talking. Parkinson’s disease is characterised in particular by hand tremor, which is the first symptom for 70% of affected individuals.

Only humans get Parkinson’s disease, so it is crucial that scientists have access to human brain tissue in order to develop new treatments.  Researchers hope to understand the causes and pathology of the disease by  comparing brains from Parkinson’s patients with brains from healthy individuals – that’s where the Brain Bank donors come in.

The Parkinson’s Brain Bank is the UK’s largest human brain bank dedicated to Parkinson’s disease and is based at Imperial College London.

After the death of a donor, the team on call at the Brain Bank dashes to collect the brain, spinal cord and a sample of cerebrospinal fluid within 24 hours. The brain is then weighed, measured and examined, and subsequently brain is divided into two halves, which are preserved differently. The right half of the brain is preserved by quickly freezing it, while the left half is placed in a fixative for about four weeks. Before freezing, tissue samples are taken from 21 different points and the nerve cells are carefully studied under a microscope.

The brain tissue is then provided to researchers around the world who are working towards a cure for Parkinson’s.  Since 2002, the Parkinson’s Brain Bank has supplied tissue to more than 80 research projects around the world – including projects in the UK, Europe, USA and Canada.

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