Beth Israel Deaconess Joins Autism BrainNet Tissue Bank

The consortium will provide brain tissue for autism research.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is an inaugural member of the Autism BrainNet, a partnership of academic sites that was created to collect, store, and distribute brain tissue resources to help scientists study autism, a condition that now affects an estimated one in 68 children. The Simons Foundation, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Science Foundation announced the creation of BrainNet and its outreach program and registration site, It Takes Brains.

BIDMC will serve as a collection and storage site for the brain tissue samples, which will come from the New England area and beyond. Then, the samples will be distributed to qualified researchers throughout the U.S. and the world, with the common goal of accelerating autism research, according to BIDMC reps.

“Access to human brain tissue is essential for researchers working to understand the causes of autism,” says Matthew P. Anderson, Boston node director and clinical neuropathologist for the Autism BrainNet, and director of neuropathology at BIDMC. “Having access to this large network of autism bank tissues will enable researchers to study structural changes in the brains of autism patients, as well as genetic disturbances and molecular abnormalities that characterize this widespread behavioral disease. We are hoping to develop a broad collection of defined subtypes of autisms that include both known genetic forms, as well as those where the causes remain undefined.”

According to the It Takes Brains website, by studying brain tissue, researchers have already discovered that:

  • Children with autism have different underlying brain structures than typically developing children, and an overabundance of nerve cells in an area of the brain involved in social and communication skills.
  • The brains of autistic people have fewer oxytocin receptors than the brains of unaffected people. Oxytocin is a hormone that has an influence on social behavior.
  • There appears to be structural difference in the brains of people with autism, including differences in the number and size of neurons and the presence of inflammation.

Other institutions participating in BrainNet include: Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, the University of California MIND Institute in Sacramento, and the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Reps say that additional sites, including international nodes, are expected to join in the future.

To learn more about Autism BrainNet, call 1-877-333-0990.