April 22, 2021
University of Miami is banking on brains

Photo: University of Miami

Researchers need brains donated by people who die of brain-related illness and also other causes.

Miami-Dade roundup

University of Miami is banking on brains

UM's brain tissue bank is a center for research into brain-related disease.

Deborah Mash, professor of neurology and molecular and cellular pharmacology at the UM Miller School of Medicine, founded the University of Miami Brain Bank in 1987 after returning to Miami following a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Hospital.

The bank, one of several brain tissue banks in Florida, including one at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, houses more than 2,000 brains.

Thanks to people who donated their brains upon death, researchers have been able to make findings that may impact the way brain-related diseases are treated. Most recently, Mash and her colleagues Detected a neurotoxin in the marine food chain that has possible links to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases. Additional areas of study, made possible by the bank, include autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“We want to identify and understand the pathology so we can fix it,” Mash says. “If we come up with a way to diagnose early … we can modify and slow it (the disease) down.” 

The bank has about 500 living donors on its registry, and while the brains of people who were ill are important to the study of diseases, the bank also needs donations from people who die from other causes. Research requires comparison of diseased brains with healthy ones.

Last September, the National Institutes of Health awarded Mash a grant that could be worth up to $8 million, to be used to expand the bank, increase research access to tissue and educate the public about brain-related diseases and brain donation.

— Millie Acebal Rousseau

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Tags: Miami-Dade, Education, Research & Development

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