A new grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will support and expand continued research into brain health using human brain specimens at McLean Hospital.

The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) at McLean, or the Brain Bank, is one of six such biospecimen banks in the NIH NeuroBioBank that supplies postmortem brain tissue for nationwide research and was established in 1978 at McLean. It has since gathered more than 9,000 specimens from both donors with neurological and psychiatric disorders as well as healthy controls—just as critical to the institution’s research into a range of brain-based conditions.

“Research on samples from donors with brain disorders allows us to understand what changes occur in the brains of people who suffer from these conditions and to help develop effective therapies,” said Sabina Berretta, MD, Director of the Brain Bank and the Translational Neuroscience Laboratory at McLean. “It’s equally important that people who do not suffer from brain disorders consider registering to become brain donors, since those samples provide a baseline.”

The new grant will expand upon the Brain Bank’s previous NIH contract, which funded the collection of 100 brains per year for the past six years, by funding 180 brains per year and extending the number of new procedures that enhance the center’s mission. In addition to deepening medicine’s knowledge of such conditions as eating disorders, depression, and multiple sclerosis, notes Dr. Berretta, the new grant emphasizes brain donations from people who suffered from substance misuse and opioid overdose. The research also combats stigma, she adds, with understanding of brain pathology.

“Psychiatric disorders are often mistakenly understood as ‘psychological’ or ‘behavioral’ disorders: conditions without a biological underpinning,” says Dr. Berretta. “This erroneous view leads to the stigma associated with these disorders, which are often seen as character flaws as opposed to what they really are, disorders of the brain–no different than disorders that affect other organs, such as heart conditions.”

Read more in Science Magazine.

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