Grant from MS Society, Parkinson’s UK to Establish Digital Brain Bank

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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The Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s Tissue Bank at Imperial College London, is the largest repository of brain and spinal cord tissue samples in Europe.

Now, the MS Society and Parkinson’s UK has announced a £3 million grant (about $3.6 million) to support its transition into a digital brain bank powered by a virtual reality platform, which will provide new tools for researchers around the world with the ultimate goal of stopping Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.

These new technologies will be used to create high-definition pictures of brain tissue donated by people with Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS) after their death.

The Tissue Bank, established in 2009, originated from The UK Multiple Sclerosis Tissue Bank and the UK Parkinson’s Disease Society Tissue Bank, both located at the Imperial College in London. Over the years, this repository has collected samples from patients with MS and Parkinson’s disease, as well as healthy donors. Their collection has a large number of well-documented clinical cases that have been used in more than 700 research projects.

The funding from the two leading neurological charities will total £3 million (about $3.6 million) over a period of five years.

“The Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank has played a vital role in advancing our understanding of Parkinson’s so far. Through these new technological initiatives, we will be able to expand the reach and impact of the bank, and enable the best researchers from across the world to study the samples,” professor David Dexter, deputy director of research at Parkinson’s UK, said in a press release.

The new digital tissue bank will grant researchers access to tissue images, as well as the opportunity to explore the brain’s structures in a 3-D interactive section.

“This holds huge potential for speeding up access to better treatments and ultimately a cure for the 148,000 people with Parkinson’s in the UK. In addition to providing tissue to researchers worldwide, this project will now also give them access to an immense library of tissue images that can be studied indefinitely. Sharing and storing tissue samples in this way means each individual brain can be used more extensively, benefitting future projects as well as current ones,” Dexter said.

Moreover, virtual visits will allow potential donors to understand how the bank works and what happens to the donated tissues. In this way people are allowed to make a more informed decision about their donation.

Among other projects, this grant will fund genetic screenings so that researchers can understand how a patient’s genetics contributes for disease development.

David Burrows was a patient who died from Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago. He donated his brain to the bank.

His wife, Deborah Burrows, said “Right from the start, David said he wanted to donate his brain to research. I was pleased — this was typical of David as he always wanted to help others. He worked as a car mechanic, and would always (sometimes literally) go that extra mile for people.”

“I feel so proud of David for his decision — he is a real inspiration to me. One brain can provide around 250 samples that can be used in many different research projects. So, David is still helping people now by ensuring that research to find better treatments for people with Parkinson’s can continue,” she said.

Professor Richard Nicholas, the scientific director of MS Studies at the tissue bank said, “it’s a privilege to have the support of organizations like the MS Society and Parkinson’s UK, who do everything they can to ensure the work of the scientific community reflects the needs of people living with the neurological conditions (…) The charities recognize that if we’re going to revolutionize the way these conditions are treated — and find treatments for everyone — scientists need the right tools.”

“This investment will ensure all researchers have access to high quality brain and spinal cord tissue from people with MS and Parkinson’s, and marks an important development in the UK research landscape. We’re excited to see where it takes us,” Nicholas said.