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Autism Research Could Be Set Back Years

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In what could be a major blow to autism research efforts, scientists say that one-third of the world’s largest collection of autism brain samples has been damaged.

Officials at McLean Hospital, a Harvard affiliate near Boston, found that a freezer where the samples were housed failed in late May, according to a report in The Boston Globe. Two alarms designed to warn of freezer problems had not gone off even as the internal temperature rose and all of the 150 brains inside thawed.

Of them, 53 were intended for autism research, according to Autism Speaks, which runs the Autism Tissue Program that the samples are part of. The collection includes brain tissue from individuals with autism who have died.

Experts told the Boston Globe that the damaged brain samples represented a “priceless collection” and the loss could slow autism research efforts by a decade.

Officials at Autism Speaks, however, were more optimistic.

“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,” wrote Geri Dawson, the organization’s chief science officer, in a letter to supporters.

Dawson said that all but one of the damaged brain samples were bisected. As a result, just half of each had been stored in the problematic freezer. The other half of each brain sample remains available for research.

It is not clear what led to the freezer malfunction and a number of investigations are underway. However, given the unusual circumstances, officials at the center where the brain samples were stored told The Boston Globe that they cannot rule out foul play.

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. Thomas C. Wood says:

    Mechanical equipment failures are to be expected. But it is tough luck, that it happened to the refrigerator storing pickled Autistic person’s brains.

  2. KA101 says:

    Since aut$peaks was involved, I fear I’m not particularly sympathetic. It’s a shame that the nonautistic samples got damaged, granted, but aut$peaks sucks up money that the community sorely needs.

    Maybe researchers stymied by this loss will consider finding ways to implement (formal) social skills-training throughout the public school curriculum, or some similar method of helping autistic folks w/o mucking about with our neurochemistry?

    An autie can dream, no?

  3. Dadvocate says:

    This is indeed a tragic loss for basic autism research. Hopefully it doesn’t delay too many studies and perhaps it may serve to encourage more people with autism and their families to donate, should the circumstances present. It is unfortunate though that the generous gift to science and the autism community that these donors made is treated so breezily and disrespectfully by KA101. It’s really tiresome to read yet another “know it all” spout off that social skills training is the answer for everyone, when in fact we know so little about this collection heterogeneous disorders known as autism and how the sometimes debilitating symptoms of autism impact people on the spectrum.

  4. autismUXB says:

    I’m drawn to the foul play scenerio.

  5. KA101 says:

    Well, I don’t recall stating skill-training everyone as *the* answer. Thought I’d advocated it as an example of helping autistic folks without mucking about with our neurochemistry. Similarly non-invasive and non-hostile solutions would also merit consideration. (The JRC is unacceptable.) Apologies for my unclarity, in any event.

    Unfortunately, holding me out as a puzzle for NTs to solve (rather than–say–a person who happens to think differently), doesn’t make me any happier. And telling me that my neurotype ought to be eliminated–apparently I’m really a kidnap victim (see: Ransom Notes), or my mother might want to drive me off a bridge (see: Autism Every Day)–well…aut$peaks hasn’t earned my respect.

  6. Gretchen Wilson says:

    Please keep me updated on the outcome of research on the brain of individuals who had autism as well all donations of brains.

  7. Glen S says:

    “Happens to think differently?” Really! You are not a “child prodigy. This is not just a simple issue of IQ. You advocate for the rest of society to adapt to that which, with some well designed research and development, might be treatable. And I notice that those you advocate for more money on the services or more accommodations from employers are those who can be employed and have relatively high levels of education.

    What is you answer to all of the parents who are now raising or are caregivers to adult children with severe Autism?

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