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MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause


Brain bank expands aging research

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
Nicholas Gregory is used to getting funny looks when he tells people his job title.
Explaining that he’s the brain donation coordinator of MUSC’s brain bank can be a conversation stopper. But not for long.
Gregory is quick to tell them about the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. Neuropathology Laboratory that just opened December 2009 and to highlight the important brain tissue research being done—research that’s a critical component in finding cures for such devastating conditions as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and stroke.
Lotta Granholm, Ph.D., DDS, director of MUSC’s Center on Aging and co-director of the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. Neuropathology Laboratory, said the brain bank represents a big step forward in establishing a neuropathology core at the university and in advancing research on aging.
“The research we’ll be able to do with the brain bank—with the human brains—is really exciting. We now have 13 brains, and we’re partnering with other departments to get researchers interested in the human tissue. The more interest that is raised creates more awareness and leads to more brains donated.”
Nicholas Gregory holds a brain used for resarch at the MUSC’s brain bank, which opened December 2009. The bank now has 13 brains being used  for research.

Gregory said the brain bank will make it easier for local researchers to procure tissue without having to navigate the logistics of getting it from other states. “We can look at the South Carolina population, which in turn is the same people our doctors and clinicians are dealing with, which is comparing apples to apples. We can lead research trials here and come up with novel ideas and solutions for these problems.”
The laboratory does a postmortem diagnoses on the donated brains in order to give closure to families, but also so the tissue can be characterized and researchers can get the types of brain tissue they need.
“The only way to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease as well as other neurological disorders is through a postmortem diagnosis,” he said. “Also, the best way to study these diseases is to look at human tissue, as mouse and rodent models do not accurately mimic the diseases we see in humans.”
The state having its own brain bank will also help to solve the health disparity problems that are unique to this state, which has a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and stroke.
“We want to find out why this is. What is unique about our state that is causing us to have these high rates of these diseases? The state has a higher African-American population compared to the rest of the country and this population is known to have a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes and is at greater risk for stroke.”
According to the American Heart Association, South Carolina is sixth highest in stroke related-deaths. In a recent report from the 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures from the S.C. Alzheimer’s Association, the state has the fourth highest incidence of deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Gregory said the brain bank offers an exciting resource to discover more about the disparities between racial and ethnic groups. It also allows research to move faster in discovering causes and treatments for many different kinds of neurological diseases. The bank currently has brains from people who have had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, brain tumors and progressive supranuclear palsy.
“People are excited about this and see that it’s a great opportunity for the state and for MUSC. It truly can do a lot of good here. We already have a lot of clinical programs set up that we can collaborate with. I think we can really make some progress.”
Gregory said the organ donation that people designate on their driver’s license does not cover the brain. Brain donation requires a donor registration form and also notification of the next-of-kin, who will be required to sign a postmortem consent form after death. Anyone can donate, except for people with certain infectious diseases such as AIDS or Hepatitis.
Because people suffering from neurological disorders often understand the need for research, the bank receives many of those types of donations. It also needs “normal” or non-diseased brains, though, that can be used as controls in studies, he said. The bank has 13 brains, with it receiving one every other week. The goal is to increase it to one a week.
Gregory said neuroscience is an exciting field, with the past decade seeing an exponential growth in research. “As much as we’ve studied, there’s still a long way to go.”
Having a local brain bank encourages more local people to make donations, since research shows people are more likely to donate to a state-supported program, he said.
“It’s a gift of hope and a way people can give back to their community. Most people have the heart on their driver’s license. They are willing to donate their organs to potentially save someone’s life. We believe this is just as important.”
For more information or to print out a donor form, visit

Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.