A new multi-site network will launch this fall to collect brain samples for autism research in an effort to accelerate understanding of the developmental disorder.

The network known as Autism BrainNet will be an expansion of Autism Speaks’ Autism Tissue Program and will be the first such initiative to have sites across the country dedicated to acquiring, processing, storing and distributing brain tissue, organizers said.

Scientists say studying brain samples is the best way to understand autism, but such specimens are in short supply. The need for donations became even more urgent last year when a freezer malfunction at a Massachusetts brain bank left one-third of the world’s largest collection of autism brain samples unusable, though backers say the network set to launch later this year was already in the works when the failure occurred.

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The new brain bank is being established by Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation. Initial sites will be located at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, the University of California, Davis MIND Institute and the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, with more locations domestically and internationally expected, organizers said.

“Brain donation is a difficult subject for many and takes courage to discuss, but experiments on human brain tissue are now the very best way forward in attempts to improve the quality of life of those on the autism spectrum,” said Gerald D. Fischbach, scientific director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.

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