Autism BrainNet establishes collaboration with the Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank

Brain slices. Gloved hands hold a microscope slide of a section through a human brain above an assortment of other brain sections on a lightbox. The slide being held up and the lower row of slides are coronal slices through the frontal region of the cerebrum. The cerebrum is the part of the brain involved with conscious thought and sensory processing. The other two rows of slides are sections through the cerebellum, which coordinates movement and balance. By examining brain slices under a microscope the health of the brain can be determined.

Simon Fraser/Science Source

Autism BrainNet has established a new collaboration with the Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank (DBCBB). This alliance will allow Canadian individuals and families the opportunity to consider making a postmortem brain donation to help advance autism research.

Autism BrainNet was launched in 2014, with a mission to accelerate the progress of autism research by fostering worldwide collaboration among scientists across multiple disciplines through sharing the rare resource of human brain tissue.

Autism BrainNet’s director, David Amaral, notes, “While we have received brain donations from Canadian families in the past, we have not yet attempted to reach the broader Canadian autism community. This new collaboration is a first major step in that direction.” The program is seeking donations of the brains of those individuals diagnosed with autism during their lifetimes.

Autism BrainNet announced a new collaboration with the Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank at the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) 2019 Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada, on May 2. From left to right: Louis Reichardt, SFARI director; Marta Benedetti, SFARI senior scientist and president of Foundation Associates LLC, which supports Autism BrainNet; Naguib Mechawar, Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank director; David Amaral, Autism BrainNet director.

The DBCBB, based at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute (a McGill University affiliate), has become one of the most important brain banks in the world. Founded in 1980, it currently houses and manages more than 3,000 brains, as well as a large relational database containing demographic, clinical and developmental histories of their donors. Supported by McGill’s Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative and by the Quebec Network on Suicide, Mood Disorders and Related Disorders, the DBCBB is one of the rare brain banks in North America to collect brains from individuals who suffered from different neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as diverse mental disorders, including schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and substance-abuse disorders.

“Currently, there has not been a major effort to do outreach and collect donations to support research on neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism,” says DBCBB director, Naguib Mechawar. “But with the development of major, new autism research initiatives at McGill through the establishment of the Azrieli Centre for Autism Research, we were motivated to find a mechanism through which we could contribute.”

Adds DBCBB co-director Gustavo Turecki, “Given the heterogeneity of autism spectrum disorders, it is essential that researchers study a large number of brains. Establishing a resource for this is only possible if organizations collaborate on outreach and collection. Since Autism BrainNet provides tissue to researchers worldwide, we are confident that all autism researchers, both in Canada and beyond, will benefit from this collaboration.”

“Families willing to make these donations are contributing to a better future for all individuals with autism.”

- Louis Reichart

SFARI director, Louis Reichardt, also views the collaboration with high enthusiasm: “It is absolutely critical that we understand what has been altered in the brains of individuals with autism. While important data has and will be obtained using rodents and even nonhuman primates, one cannot be convinced of the importance of these results for understanding human autism without confirmation using donated human brains. Families willing to make these donations are contributing to a better future for all individuals with autism.”

The two groups’ collaboration will begin with outreach efforts in the province of Quebec, moving into other provinces in the near future. Families interested in learning more about the donation process can go to To sign up to receive more information through a quarterly newsletter, please go to To make a donation, please call 1-877-333-0999.

** Click here to read the press release.

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