The choice to become a superhero is a fairly easy one.
Every day, in the United States alone, about 80 people receive successful organ transplants.
All you have to do is tick a teeny box on your driver’s license and voila – the most valuable parts of your mortal coil (once no longer in use by you) will get passed on to those who can use them – giving you the opportunity to save one, two, even 100 lives.
Pretty good deal, right?
But there’s a hole in this seemingly straightforward system. A quick scan down the list of organs you could pass on, and you’ll notice a conspicuous absence: your brain.
Now, to be fair, it’s not like we’ve figured out how to do brain transplants (yet…). But the brain-donation omission poses some problems.
For starters, even for organs that do make the list, donor numbers are still not what they should be. Over 20 people die daily while waiting for procedures that are on hold due to a lack of suitable donated tissue. Considering the mismatch in supply and demand when the barrier is just a few pen-marks and a signature… you can imagine the disparity for a process that’s slightly more complicated – or, is shrouded in relative obscurity.
And unfortunately, brain donation is both.
The issue of perceived cause-and-effect also comes into play. Donate your liver – it goes directly to someone whose own liver is failing.
But your brain? It would go to research – the result of which might take years to see fruition. The incentive isn’t as immediately obvious. But consider this: Over 1 billion people worldwide are affected by neurological disorders. Meaning it’s almost inevitable that someone close to you will eventually draw the proverbial short straw.
To make things even more complicated – somewhat paradoxically – the more information we gather about the brain, the more we need to gather. An integral part of science is replication – so every time a major breakthrough is made… it has to be tested again, and again, and again. (This to make absolutely sure it wasn’t a fluke of misunderstanding or bad measurement.)
When it comes to brain science specifically, human tissue donations – both from those with neurological abnormalities, and from healthy control subjects – are among our most powerful assets. While animals have been extremely useful in neuroscience research, when it comes to understanding the human brain, nothing beats the real thing.
Today marks the beginning of International Brain Awareness Week, and our aim this year is to shed light on brain donation. While disease advocacy groups do an excellent job educating their respective demographics, their messages don’t always reach the general public. So this week, we’d like to spread the message to those who might not know that brain donation is even an option – let alone how to opt in, or why it’s important.
Below are some resources for you to educate yourself further, as well as links to “brain banks” worldwide. If you’d like to do something for the cause, please share this article. And if you’d like to do two things, become a donor yourself.
Happy Brain Week!
Why Brain Donation?
- Here’s Why You Should Donate Your Brain To Science (WIRED)
- More Needed Than Ever, Brain Banks Are Modernizing But Face Funding Crunch
- Canadian Brain Banking (Bank list included)
- Make It Easier To Donate To Help Brain Research (The Oregonian)
Where To Donate Your Brain
- NIH NeuroBioBank – How To Become A Donor (and United States Bank list)
- BrainNet Europe’s Worldwide List
- Alzforum’s Worldwide List
- The International Registry on Organ Donation and Transplantation