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Doc Dave’s Blog

I WANT YOUR BRAIN

27-04-2009

Birmingham neurologist Dr David Nicholl is on the hunt for your vital organ.

Jeremy Paxman’s decision to donate his brain for research into Parkinson’s disease is a welcome focus on this vital research.

I have spent all my neurological career working on this late onset neurodegenerative disorder, and helped to identify the commonest genetic cause of Parkinson’s disease in a gene called LRRK2.

However, identifying the abnormal gene is always just the first step - one needs to know what the gene does at the protein level to understand what is causing the disease. Bluntly, that means having some brain tissue from a patient with Parkinson’s disease, but also one needs some brain tissue from someone who does not have the disease - a control- to have a valid comparison to study.

Clearly those people who have Parkinson’s disease have a vested interest in trying to find out more about “their” disease, but it is getting increasingly difficult to recruit healthy people, such as Mr Paxman, to donate their brains, as unless you have a sufficient number of control subjects, the research will be less valid.

Since the appalling Alder Hey scandal, when hundreds of organs were taken from deceased children without consent, it has become increasingly difficult to perform appropriately cleared ethical research.

Although this is a rarely talked about subject one just needs to think what would have happened in the Human Mad Cow disease (variant CJD) scare of there hadn’t been a neuropathologist studying the cases?

None of us particularly like dwelling on death, but sometimes getting a post mortem can be vital, not just as a public health measure but also to enable proper research to enable better treatments to be developed.

So if like Jeremy Paxman, you would like the Parkinson’s disease society to have your brain - after you’ve stopped using it - you can do so here. They can have mine too - maybe we can then find the brain’s “Stirring” centre!

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