Brain Bank


PREP FOR DEEP FREEZE: Half of each donor brain is sliced and frozen. Researchers will study its proteins and DNA.

Many people register to donate their organs when they die to save another life. One vital organ can’t be transplanted, but it can still be an important donation to science: the brain.

At McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, neuroscientists Sabina Berretta and Wilson Woo run the world’s largest brain bank. The facility has received donations of more than 9,000 human brains since its opening in 1979.


NEW DONATION: Each brain received is cut in half. One half is frozen. The other is preserved for analysis of its structure.

After a donor dies, scientists have only a 24-hour window to preserve a specimen for research. One hemisphere, or half, of each donated brain is frozen in liquid nitrogen for genetic analysis. The other half is preserved in a chemical solution for anatomical study. Scientists from labs worldwide use the donated brain tissue to study disorders affecting the brain.

Berretta uses brain-bank tissue in her own research. “We now know disorders like schizophrenia involve several parts of the brain and many molecules,” she says.