MRC Brain Banks: Joint Application to Underpin Neuroscience Research

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences


This application plans to support research into the causes and potential treatment of a range of diseases affecting the brain, some of which have been identified as priorities for research, such as dementia. The UK has a network of established Brain Banks that provide human tissue samples to a wide range of researchers. Human tissue samples have allowed a better understanding of the mechanisms operating in these complex disorders and have already aided the development of treatments for Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

This application will support four Brain Banks in Edinburgh, London, Newcastle and Oxford. These banks each have areas of particular interest, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and motor neurone disease. However, in addition to the collection of tissues samples from patients with brain disorders, it is also essential to collect normal tissue samples for use as controls in research. Two of the Banks have a major focus in this area, so this application will support the collection of both disease and normal tissue samples.

The banks will support scientific research by providing human tissue samples in an efficient and cost effective manner, while ensuring the samples provided are of the high quality required by researchers. The banks have worked to improve their efficiency, reducing the time required to provide the samples to researchers. Details of the samples available in each of the banks are included in a database, which is accessible through the internet. This allows researchers to see what samples are available and how to request these samples for their research in an easy way that will save time and speed up progress.

All four Brain Banks in this application have approval form an Ethics Committee, to ensure that their working practices meet nationally agreed standards that apply to work with human tissue samples. The work of each Bank is overseen by a local steering committee that includes members of the public and ethics experts as well as scientists and pathologists. Brain Banking is expensive, but the operating costs of these four banks are far less than their equivalents in Europe and in the USA.

The challenges of developing treatments for complex diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease are considerable, but the Brain Banks in this application will play an important role in underpinning the scientific research in these national priority areas.

Technical Summary

This joint application from the MRC Brain Banks in Edinburgh, London, Newcastle and Oxford is submitted in accordance with the wishes of the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board (NMHB). After the last funding round for the MRC Brain Banks in 2011, NMHB indicated that a future joint application would be preferred and that the applicants should demonstrate progress in efficiency and improving standards of work in accordance with an agreed set of metrics. This application fulfils this request, and aims to underpin neuroscience research in the UK by providing high-quality human brain tissue samples and data in the formats required by researchers in both academic and industrial settings. The four banks in this application together cover the collection of human tissue samples from a range of major neurological diseases, and normal tissue samples to act as controls. This provides an invaluable resource to underpin neuroscience research in UK, particularly in recently identified priority areas such as dementia.

The banks have demonstrated in this application that they can work to the standards set in the metrics agreed with the NMHB, and have improved their efficiency of operations. The banks already support a number of major researchers in academia and industry in UK and overseas, including several who are currently funded by MRC. The provision of high quality tissue samples and accompanying data is essential for the success of these projects; the MRC brain banks constitute a critical infrastructure for this research.

In order to develop this important work further, funding for a 5 year period is requested; earlier funding awards for periods of 2 years has not been conducive to long term planning and strategy. The costs of brain banking in the UK compare very favourably with those in Europe and in the USA; over the next 5 years the banks will continue to work to improve efficiency of operation and to operate a cost recovery programme in keeping with MRC policy.

Planned Impact

The activities of the brain banks will be of major significance to neuroscience researchers in the UK and the banks plan to capitalise upon this by promoting the availability of their tissue samples during the course of this grant, primarily by the MRC database, which will give details of all samples currently available, including control samples. This promotion will not be confined to academic researchers, but also through the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries the applicants will promote the availability of the tissue samples in their banks and will engage with both academic and industrial researchers to help provide the samples they require.

The brain banks already supply tissue samples to commercial companies for their research and development purposes and it is planned to continue and develop these contacts within an appropriate framework.

The applicants are involved in a number of local, national and international committees and bodies that relate to research. Policymakers within both government (DH) and non-governmental organisations and regulators (e.g. the Human Tissue Authority) will benefit from information arising from the use of human brain tissue samples and also from the general promotion of brain donation in neuroscience research.

The applicants have previously engaged with museums (including the Wellcome Trust museum) and charities including the Alzheimer's Society, Alzheimer's Research UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Parkinson's UK to provide expert advice on brain banking. The applicants also work within the committee structure of these charities to advise on their research activities, particularly those that might involve the collection and use of human tissue samples.

The wider public is likely to benefit from this planned research, particularly if the tissue samples provided result in improved diagnosis or treatment for patients with neurodegenerative disorders. Furthermore, the promotion of brain banking and the value of brain donation for research will help raise public awareness of the challenges of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases, and help make individuals take an informed choice on this complex matter.

It is likely that the government may benefit from this research, particularly in respect to the activities of the Ministerial Action Group on Dementia Research and the Prime Minister's Challenge on dementia, within which brain banking is acknowledged as an essential requirement to support researchers in this field. The support requested in this application will be of wider benefit to these government initiatives and the research arising from this work, supported by other government funded bodies including NIHR.

Finally, MRC is likely to benefit from this research, since the applicants already provide large numbers of tissue samples to researchers such as Professor John Hardy, UCL, who are in receipt of significant funding from MRC to undertake research projects that are critically dependent on a continuous supply of high quality tissue samples that will be collected and made available during the course of this proposal.


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