This Man Is Slicing Up Brains For Parkinson’s Research

BarcroftTVPublished: October 10, 201711 views
Published: October 10, 2017

In a small laboratory in London are hundreds of human brains, labelled and ready for dissection - all in the name of science. At Imperial College London there is one of the UK's Brain Banks, established for diagnoses and research into neurological disorders. The college’s brain bank specifies in research for Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological condition. The brains are donated by members of the public, both those with Parkinson’s and people without, as comparisons between the different tissue need to be made. The bank is due to receive its 1,000th brain in October.

The human brain is a strange, enigmatic entity – a 3-pound witness to the world, it pilots our body from the safety of our skull. A powerful product of evolution and a force to reckon with, but also incredibly fragile and prone to error.

In steps the neuropathologist – the man behind the scalpel that slices and dices the brain in order to learn why it fails in some and not in others.

"Ideally, we need to get [the brain] back here in under 48 hours because the tissue starts to lose its quality after that time," said Steve Gentleman, professor of neuropathology at Imperial College London and scientific director for the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank.

"If a donor’s brain arrives within 48 hours, we will bisect it down the middle, half of which will be frozen and the other half is fixed and used for diagnostics."

Why would anyone donate their brain to science? One retired nurse based in London decided to do just that, after her husband was diagnosed with an early-onset Parkinson’s at just 52 years of age.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder. Symptoms typically include tremors, shaking, and difficulty with balance. It is linked to the decreased production of dopamine in the substantia nigra – a region of the midbrain that influences movement and reward. Although the disease is not fatal, quality of life is reduced, with as many as 10 million people worldwide living with the condition.

Videographer / director: Darragh Mason Field
Producer: Shannon Lane, Ed Baranski
Editor: Marcus Cooper

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