Three years ago, in October of 2016, The Brain Donor Project began operating to make sure people know about the critical need for people to donate their brains to neuroscience when they die. Those of us who had written the “business plan” for this non-profit were asked to project what sort of results we may be able to achieve. Based on what, exactly? We didn’t have a clue what to expect. We did know one thing – even if we were overwhelmed with donors, there still won’t be enough brain tissue donated to fulfill the need well into the future.
Here’s what happened. More than 7,000 people across all 50 states signed up to become a brain donor. More than half of them don’t even have a brain disorder – they’re the so-called “controls” needed by researchers for the sake of comparison. We’re really struck by that. Maybe it’s because we’ve done a lot of work with disease-based patient advocacy groups, like those who support Parkinson’s research, for example. So we expected some response from a community motivated to seek cures for their particular disease. And that happened. Actually nearly 600 Parkinson’s patients signed up…and 47 of them have since passed away and become actual donors. While we’re sorry about the loss for their families – we know those left behind take some comfort in that something positive came from their loved ones’ death. And we’re sincerely grateful for the gift.
As for the more than 4,000 people with healthy brains who have volunteered to give them to research when they die, a big thanks to you, too. Both are valuable types of altruism – the sick and the healthy – and science will certainly benefit in different ways from all. If you haven’t signed up yet, please consider it. Science needs us. And that won’t end. Not in our lifetimes.