June 11, 2012
BOSTON — A freezer malfunction at a Boston-area hospital has damaged one third of the world's largest collection of autism brain samples. An official at McLean Hospital in Belmont discovered the freezer failed in late May without triggering two alarms, resulting in the loss of tissue from 50 brains that were donated for autism research.
Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, said the loss is a major setback for neuroscience.
“The neuroscience community has come to understand what an important disease autism is for understanding how the brain works and how the brain doesn’t work in a disorder of this type,” she said.
The tissue collection is owned by Autism Speaks, an advocacy and research organization. "Fortunately, the affected tissue has already been used in many studies," CSO Geri Dawson said in a statement. "Although this event will affect the availability of tissue for future research, we cannot yet determine the level of impact, but we are confident that we can maintain the momentum of scientific studies based on brain tissue."
Dawson added that she was told that a double alarm failure had never before happened in the brain bank's 35-year history.