Autism researchers say they desperately need people with the developmental disorder to become brain donors. Now a new network is launching to streamline efforts to solicit donations.

Known as Autism BrainNet, the multi-site collaboration launching Friday will collect, store and distribute brain tissue to researchers. A companion website offers information for those considering brain donation and provides an opportunity to sign up to become a donor at death.

Researchers say that brain tissue samples are critical to identifying the underlying neurological differences responsible for autism. However, with just four to six brain donations per year, scientific progress has been slow, they say.

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The need for brain tissue donors was magnified in 2012 when a freezer malfunction at a Massachusetts brain bank left one-third of the world’s largest collection of autism brain samples unusable.

“Most people think brain tissue is included when you register as an organ donor, but it’s not,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation which helped establish the new effort along with the Simons Foundation and Autism Speaks. “Every family raising a child with autism needs to think about registering to donate brain tissue in case of a tragedy. Brain tissue research is the best hope we have for understanding what causes autism and developing new and better treatments for individuals with autism.”

Autism BrainNet is an expansion of Autism Speaks’ Autism Tissue Program, with collection sites located at Harvard University/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, the University of California, Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, Calif., and the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

Each site will adhere to standard protocols, organizers say, and additional sites around the globe are expected to be added.