Panel discussion Q&A follow-up: Brain banking: progress, challenges and opportunities

Neuro Central recently hosted a free online panel discussion, ‘Brain banking: progress, challenges and opportunities’, featuring speakers Janice Holton and Tamas Revesz (both UCL Institute of Neurology and Queen Square Brain Bank (QSBB), London), Rosa Sancho (Alzheimer’s Research UK) and James Pickett (Alzheimer’s Society).
Following a lively discussion, our panel took questions from the audience. Here, our panel responds to those questions that we didn’t have time for during the live webinar. Do let us know your thoughts on brain banking or any of the questions posed by commenting below this feature!

Did you miss the live panel discussion? You can watch it On Demand here.

How many brains are donated a year to UK brain banks, and how many are currently in storage?

There are over 2000 brains in storage at QSBB and over 15,500 cases available in the Medical Research Council (MRC) database, including 600 in the Brains for Dementia Research collection.

Approximately 80–100 brains are donated each year at QSBB and approximately 2000 each year to the MRC network brain banks. The Brains for Dementia Research project expects to receive around 100 brains a year in the next 3 years, and a further 2600 people have consented to donate their brains to the project.

What is the standard protocol, in terms of preparation/pathological study, for a newly donated brain?

At QSBB, brains are usually received fresh and are cut in half in the midline. One half of the brain is sliced and the slices are rapidly frozen and stored at -80oC. The other half is fixed in formalin to preserve it. It is then examined and sliced. Blocks of tissue are selected from standard brain regions to be processed for histology. These tissue blocks are then sliced to achieve thin sections that are mounted on glass slides ready for staining. Staining is achieved using routine procedures (typically haematoxylin and eosin) to assess the tissue integrity. Special stains, for example to study myelin, may also be used. Immunohistochemical stains will be used to assess the pathological deposition of proteins related to neurodegenerative diseases or to assess specific cell types such as astrocytes or neurons. The selection of these stains and the regions stained will depend upon the diagnosis.

Does this process differ depending on the health (i.e. dementia diagnosis or healthy control) of the donor?

All cases are screened for neurodegenerative diseases and then additional brain regions will be selected and stained to confirm the diagnosis and document the affected brain regions.

Do you plan to perform postmortem neuroimaging studies?

We (Janice Holton and colleagues) do not plan to do this as a routine, although specific research studies may include post-mortem brain imaging. At QSBB, we have conducted several such studies.

In donors with Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies, do you also obtain and analyze peripheral tissues / whole-body autopsy?

At QSBB at present, we do not undertake whole-body autopsies or collect peripheral tissues. There may be other brain banks around the world that have the facilities to do this.