The UK Brain Banks Network is an initiative which was originally led by the MRC, to establish a coordinated national network of UK brain tissue resources (banks) for researchers to use.
The banks store post-mortem brain and central nervous system (CNS) tissue donated by the public for diagnosis and research into disorders. Advances in understanding genetics and many of the molecules that define brain function mean that more and more research questions can be answered from human brain tissue.
The UK Brain Banks Network supplies tissue samples to academic and industry researchers in the UK and abroad. All brain banks in the Network have approval to provide tissue samples to research projects and pilot studies. Approval is based on scientific merit and takes into account ethical issues (if peer review and ethics approval has not yet been obtained).
The banks work together to agree common standards of operation and to harmonise protocols for consent, tissue handling and storage, quality indicators and the application process for access to tissue samples.
Brain banks in the Network are distributed across the country and donors register with the brain bank nearest to them. Researchers can apply to use tissue from any bank, some of which specialise in different disease areas, for example: dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and autism.
An important early aim of the Network was to improve the supply of ‘healthy’ tissue that can be used in scientific studies as a control (or comparison) for tissue samples from patients with neurological disease.
None of the banks in the UK Brain Bank Network collect foetal brains, however the banks do communicate with other resources, such as the MRC/Wellcome Trust Human Developmental Biology Resource, which collect voluntary donations of embryonic/fetal material.
Each bank receives funding from a variety of different sponsors e.g. NIHR, NHS Trusts, and UK-wide and smaller charities. The five UK charities supporting the Network are:
Most banks also rely on recovering some of the costs of providing samples. As a network, the banks have agreed on a standard tariff for the different types of samples. Researchers are asked to include these costs when applying for research grants.