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Freezer malfunction jeopardizes autism research

A human brain.
A human brain.
EUSKALANATO/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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The quest to find more effective treatments for autism is facing a major setback after a freezer malfunction at a Harvard hospital.

The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, the largest and oldest federally funded "brain bank" in the United States, is calling this a "devastating" loss. The center provides post-mortem brain tissue to researchers across the country, many of whom are trying to understand autism.

But last month, a freezer at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, failed, badly damaging at least 54 tissue samples earmarked for autism research.

Some of the brains were originally stored when scientific advances like stem cell research weren't feasible. Researchers fear the loss of samples could make it harder to encourage future brain donations from autistic children and young adults.

"There has been a lot of resistance of brain donations for religious and cultural reasons," Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, told the Associated Press.


Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report