Former Home Secretary, David Blunkett MP has offered his support to a major campaign to encourage people to donate brain tissue upon their death to a new brain bank, Brains for Dementia Research.
In doing so, Mr Blunkett also pledged to become a donor. His commitment comes as scientists suggest a lack of awareness of the importance of donation is contributing to a nationwide shortage of brains essential for dementia research.
A survey commissioned for the launch of the Brains for Dementia Research brain bank network, found that only 31% of people are aware it is possible to donate your brain after death for dementia research. This compares to 86% who are aware of heart donation for transplant and 72% who know of the possibility to leave your whole body for medical science.
Scientists at the new ??2million network of brain banks, coordinated by King’s College London and funded by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and Alzheimer’s Society, warn this lack of awareness has contributed to a severe shortage of suitable brains. This shortage is resulting in major delays in the search for a cure or treatments for dementia as it limits the opportunity for high quality research. The need for effective treatments has never been greater – in less than 20 years nearly a million people will be living with dementia.
Rt Hon David Blunkett MP said,
‘I’ve pledged my brain tissue for research as I know how vital it is to defeat dementia. As Vice President of Alzheimer’s Society I have seen first hand the devastating impact of this condition that affects 700,000 people in the UK. I hope to be using my brain for a good while yet, but I’m pleased to know that it may help people in the future when I no longer have need of it.’
Professor Paul Francis, Director of Brains for Dementia Research at King’s College London, said,
‘It is vitally important that we increase awareness of the continuing need for brain donation. David’s pledge to Brains for Dementia Research will make a real difference. As soon as he turns 65, David will have an assessment for the brain bank as this provides the best resource for scientists.
‘We estimate we need up to 200 brain donations each year to establish the banks and to replace tissue used in scientific studies. Brains from people without dementia are particularly important as they help us work out the differences between healthy older people and people with dementia. Much of what we know about the brain, how it works and current dementia treatments come from research on donated brain tissue. Brains for Dementia Research aims to set a gold standard for dementia research and ultimately find a cure.’
The poll also revealed some confusion about how to donate body parts for research. More than two thirds of people surveyed believed that joining the NHS Organ Donor Register means a person has given consent for donated body parts to be used for medical research. However the register only relates to organs to be used for transplants.
There is currently no similar scheme for donation for medical research and people are currently required to contact the individual research centres. Brains for Dementia Research hopes to ensure the process of brain donation is as straightforward as possible and handled in a sensitive manner.
Furthermore, a lack of knowledge was found to be preventing people pledging to donate their brains. Although a third of people asked said they would consider donating their brain to dementia research, a third said they didn’t know enough to make a decision about donating.
Pat Boyes, whose husband, former MP Roland Boyes, died of Alzheimer’s said,
‘It’s so vital that we support research into dementia to help future generations be rid of this terrible disease. I’m donating my brain to the brain bank and I’m proud that my legacy could help researchers to make the treatment breakthrough we so urgently need. I’ve visited the brain bank and seen that every one is treated with great respect by the scientists and is enormously valuable in the fight against dementia.’
Brains for Dementia Research has centres at London, Manchester, Oxford and Cardiff. People who have pledged to donate their brains will be monitored each year.
People over 65 who are interested in contributing to dementia research by donating their brain should contact Dr Gillian Hayes at King’s College London at bdr.officekcl.ac or 020 7848 8377 for more information. Please also visit the website BrainsForDementiaResearch
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2021 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken 25th – 28th September 2009. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
- Respondents were asked:
Which, if any, of the following medical donation options are you aware of? [Please tick all that apply]
Hearts to be used for transplants
Corneas to be used for transplants
Skin to be used for transplants
Brains to be used for dementia research
Whole bodies for medical science
None of these
Yes, I believe they have given consent
No, I do not believe they have given consent
How likely, if at all, would you be to pledge your brain for dementia research after your death?
Not very likely
Not at all likely;
I don’t feel I know enough about it to make a decision
Not applicable, I have already signed up to pledge my brain for dementia research
- King’s College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2008) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King’s has more than 21,000 students from nearly 140 countries, and more than 5,700 employees. King’s is in the second phase of a ??1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate. For more information, visit kingshealthpartners