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Senior Brain Donors Join Fight Against Dementia

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonSeptember 5, 2012
Senior brain donors help fight dementia

Seniors in Sun City, Arizona are teaming with a local health organization by donating to one of the world’s largest “brain banks.” Their donated tissue is a critical component of dementia research.

One of the most effective ways to study how aging and age-related diseases affect the brain and body is to study the living—and the deceased. Senior residents of Sun City, Arizona—well-known as a mecca for retirees—have a unique opportunity to contribute to the study of dementia and other conditions by donating their tissues to the Brain and Body Donation Program at Banner Sun Health Research Institute.

Donated Brains Aid Research into Senior Health

Researchers at a wide variety of facilities, from the Veterans’ Administration to the Arizona Mayo Clinic to the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, have a desperate need for brain and body tissue in order to effectively study diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and cancer. Comparing the brains of healthy seniors with those affected by disease enables scientists to pinpoint disease-related changes in the brain. And that’s an important step forward in the fight against degenerative brain disorders.

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What Makes the Arizona Brain Bank Special

The Brain and Body Donation Program in Sun City is a shining example among programs of this type. Why? The answer lies in the fact that the donors to the program live so close by. Participating seniors must live in the greater metropolitan Phoenix area, about a 50-mile radius from the medical facility where they are brought after death. Consenting donors can therefore be tested for genetic factors or other biological markers prior to death, as well as being tested for neurological, physical, and cognitive health. This means scientists have access to a wealth of information about individual donors.

Another advantage conferred by the donors’ proximity is the ability to keep tissue samples fresh. Banner Sun Health Research Institute sends in their autopsy team as soon as possible, and ideally, the brain is preserved within three hours of death. According to an article in Discover magazine, “Because the brain’s proteins, DNA, and other molecules are still intact, pharmaceutical companies are willing to pay high prices for the tissue.”

Joining the Fight Against Alzheimer’s

The brain bank in Arizona has provided tissue samples for hundreds of studies, including research into genetic markers and brain changes that characterize Alzheimer’s disease, and a recent study looking at early signs of Parkinson’s disease and dementia in aging adults. Other studies look at common senior health ailments like arthritis and prostatecancer.

The program’s contributions to senior health are happening slowly, according to researchers, but surely. But they can’t happen at all without tissue samples. If your loved one has an interest in contributing to vital medical research, they don’t have to live in the Phoenix area to help. For information and resources, get in contact with a nearby research hospital or ask your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson

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