Thursday, June 14, 2012

World's Largest Collection of Autism Brain Samples Severely Damaged

A mechanical failure of one of the freezers of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) has led to the loss of tissue from 53 brain samples belonging to the Autism Tissue Program, a clinical program of Autism Speaks. According to the Boston Globe, the affected freezer, one of 24 in the HBTRC, was protected by two separate alarm systems, and staff checked an external thermostat twice a day to ensure that the tissue samples were maintained at negative 80 degrees Celsius. But on May 31, staff discovered the temperature inside the freezer had risen to 7 degrees, without triggering the freezer's alarm system.

Of the 53 compromised samples, 52 had already been bisected, with one hemisphere being placed in formalin. These fixed hemispheres remain available for research or have been assigned to specific research efforts such as the Brain Atlas project. "Fortunately, the affected tissue has already been used in many studies," said Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D. "Although this event will affect the availability of tissue for future research, we cannot yet determine the level of impact, but we are confident that we can maintain the momentum of scientific studies based on brain tissue."

HBTRC and Autism Speaks are conducting independent assessments to determine how the alarm failure occurred.

Autism Speaks recently formed a collaboration with the National Database for Autism Research, forming possibly the largest repository of genetic, phenotypic, clinical, and medical imaging data related to research on autism spectrum disorders. Read more about it in Psychiatric News, here.

(Image: Hywit Dimyadi/


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