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Old Brains

December 26, 2011

Preserved brains from the early 20th century may shed light on mental illness.



Tapping century-old brains.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

To understand mental illness, researchers are studying preserved brains – from as far back as the 1890s.  Indiana University pathologist George Sandusky and his colleagues have extracted DNA from the brains, which came from deceased patients in an insane asylum.  Sandusky says the written records describe each patient’s symptoms, and there are genes linked to the illnesses they probably had.

GEORGE SANDUSKY (Indiana University School of Medicine):

So now what we’re going to do, starting next April, is go back and look at 4 or 5 of these genes, in these archival samples that we’ve gotten DNA from.


He notes that the asylum patients lived under tightly controlled conditions, so their diets and daily habits were a lot alike.  If they have the same genes seen in today’s patients, that would strengthen the case that the genes cause the illnesses.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.